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Air France faces trial for crash that killed 228 including Northern Ireland surgeon

Victim: Eithne Walls
Victim: Eithne Walls

By Ian Begley

French prosecutors want Air France to face trial over a fatal crash in 2009 that killed 228 people, including a Riverdance star from Northern Ireland, a judicial source has said.

The doomed Airbus A330 jet crashed into the sea on June 1, 2009 after the pilot pushed the plane's nose upward instead of downward during a stall due to false data from sensors.

Three young Irish doctors - Jane Deasy (27), from Rathgar in Dublin; Aisling Butler (26), from Roscrea, Co Tipperary; and Eithne Walls (28), a former Irish dancing star and member of the famous Riverdance troupe from Ballygowan, Co Down - were flying home after a holiday in Brazil.

The ill-fated aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared after it ran into stormy weather with strong turbulence around four hours into the flight.

A judicial source said yesterday that prosecutors would not be seeking a trial of Airbus over the affair.

French investigators found the crew of AF447 mishandled the loss of speed readings from sensors blocked with ice and pushed it into a stall by holding the nose too high.

It took days before debris from the crash was located in the remote equatorial Atlantic Ocean area, and far longer until the wreckage was recovered.

The black boxes were finally located by robot submarines after a search spanning 23 months and costing about €35m.

The crash was the biggest loss of life in the history of Air France and the search for the wreckage was the biggest ever organised by France.

The prosecutors recommended dropping the case against Airbus, despite demands from the victims' families that the aircraft manufacturer should also be held accountable for the crash.

Both companies were charged with manslaughter in 2011.

Investigating magistrates will now decide whether to follow the recommendations of prosecutors and bring the case to trial.

Air France will also be able to appeal against any decision to bring the case to court.

The Irish women who died graduated together from the same class as doctors in surgery from Trinity College on June 15, 2007.

They were remembered last month in Paris to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

In June, 30 members of Ms Walls' family and friends ran the Dublin Women's Mini Marathon to raise money for the research fund set up in her name.

The Eithne Walls Fund provides support for the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Research Foundation, where she worked as senior house officer in ophthalmology.

Since her death, €28,000 has been raised.

Last night Ms Walls' family did not want to comment on the latest development in the legal proceedings, but in June they acknowledged the senseless loss of the young woman.

"She had many hopes and aspirations for her life which sadly could not be realised," they said.

"As a family we grieve for the milestones that we have not shared with her in the past 10 years and for the chapters of her life now unwritten.

"Eithne had a unique spirit that drew others to her and a passion for life that engaged and inspired everyone who met her.

"In the past 10 years we, and her friends and colleagues, have embraced and sought to emulate her many wonderful qualities - her compassion for others, her humour, her energy, her positivity and her genuine interest in those around her."

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