Belfast Telegraph

Pilot error and false data led to Air France crash

By John Mulgrew

The family of a young doctor from Northern Ireland have finally learned the truth about the horrific air crash that caused her death.

Mistakes by inadequately trained pilots and faulty equipment led the Air France jet to plunge into the Atlantic in June 2009, killing all 228 people aboard.

In a final damning report published on Thursday, French air accident investigators listed a combination of “human and technical factors” behind the crash of the plane, which was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Eithne Walls (28), from Ballygowan in Co Down, was one of those who lost their lives.

A doctor in the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, Ms Walls was also a gifted Irish dancer and spent a year with the Riverdance show.

The BEA air accident investigation agency has recommended better pilot training and stricter plane-certification rules following its three-year probe.

The family of one of Ms Walls’ friends on the doomed flight has said it may consider legal action against the airline in the wake of the report.

John Butler, from Co Tipperary, whose daughter Aisling (26) was on board, said the family was “heartbroken” but “trying to get on with our lives”.

But he added that legal action against Air France was still under active consideration.

“Whatever we need to do, we’ll do it,” he said.

The plane plunged into the sea during a thunderstorm in Air France’s worst disaster.

In what proved to be a fatal decision, a co-pilot in the cockpit nosed the Airbus A330 upwards during a stall instead of downwards, as he should have done, because of false data from sensors about the plane’s position.

Chief investigator Alain Bouillard said the two pilots never understood the plane was in a stall. He said only a well-experienced crew with a clear understanding could have stabilised the plane in the conditions.

“In this case, the crew was in a state of near-total loss of control,” he said.

An earlier report in July 2011 had highlighted that pilots made a series of errors, but didn’t come to a conclusion as to what caused the crash.

A second, 356-page judicial report, is due to be presented to victims’ families on Tuesday.

Mr Butler will not travel to France for the publication of the report.

But he said he was in contact with families of other victims who would keep him updated.

Cockpit became a scene of confused panic as doomed airliner plummeted seawards

By John Mulgrew and Peter Popham

The chilling final three-and-a-half minutes on Air France flight 447 saw utter confusion in the cockpit. This was the doomed transatlantic flight on which Co Down doctor Dr Eithne Walls (28) and 227 other passengers and crew died.

Little did Ms Walls know that her journey on June 1, 2009 would be the last she and her fellow Irish doctors — Aisling Butler from Co Tipperary and Jane Deasy from Dublin — would take.

The Airbus A330 flight left Brazil at 10pm UK time. Around two hours later a massive mid-Atlantic thunderstorm began brewing — but Captain Marc Dubois, a veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flying time, chose to fly straight through it rather than go around it like other planes flying the same route.

He was paving the the way for what would be a horrific crash into the Atlantic Ocean a short time later.

Minutes before impact the co-pilot warned of turbulence before the captain left the cockpit for a rest. At this point the mood inside the plane was perfectly calm, as the conversation captured by the flight recorder makes clear.

“I'll let you know when we're out of it,” co-pilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin said to an attendant, but Flight 447 had only eight minutes left to fly before everyone on board would be dead.

Outside, the pitot tubes that give pilots vital information about the plane's speed had frozen — a problem that had occurred with previous Airbus flights but the company had yet to address. The result was that pilots, with no experience of manual flying at high altitudes, were flying blind.

At one point the autopilot mechanisms disengaged and the plane rolled to the right, with the co-pilot wrongly trying to raise the nose as the stall warning sounded twice.

In a stall, all pilots know that the correct procedure is to lower the nose, but the co-pilot continued to push the Airbus upwards to the point that it was practically motionless.

The reason he did so, the report revealed, was that the all-important flight director was broken and was giving him the wrong instructions.

And the altitude alarm, the loudest alarm in the cockpit, was wrongly warning him that the plane was now losing altitude.

One pilot struggling with the controls was heard saying: “I don't have control of the plane at all.”

As the jet stalled it dropped 38,000 feet at around 180 feet a second before slamming into the ocean.

The inal report laid out the truth behind the tragedy, which was caused by both human error and technical failure in the cockpit.

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