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Pilot briefing 'could have prevented Air France tragedy'

A French investigating judge is examining evidence that the Rio-Paris Airbus crash, in which three Irish doctors died, might have been prevented if pilots had been briefed on a similar incident the previous year.

According to an online update to a book on the crash, Air France and Airbus failed to notify pilots about a crisis aboard a Paris to Madagascar flight on August 16, 2008, that bore striking resemblances to the calamities which befell flight AF447 over the south Atlantic nine months later.

Irish doctors Jane Deasy (27), from Rathgar, Dublin; Eithne Walls (28), from Ballygowan, Co Down; and Aisling Butler (26), from Roscrea, Co Tipperary; were among those who died when the plane crashed in June 2009.

An American aviation expert Roger Rapoport says the events aboard the Air France to Madagascar flight -- and the successful action taken by its pilot to prevent a crash -- are now central to the Rio-Paris manslaughter investigation which is being conducted by Judge Sylvie Zimmerman.

Mr Rapoport says an independent study by aviation experts sent to the judge last week took a much tougher line on the possible criminal responsibilities of Airbus and Air France than the inconclusive final report of the French air accident investigation bureau, the BEA, the previous week.

His book reveals that the experts' criticism is based partly on events aboard an Airbus 340, AF flight 373, from Paris to Madagascar in August 2008.

The pilot of the Madgasacar flight lost reliable indication of his airspeed because the recorders, or pitot tubes, had iced up. Amid heavy turbulence, he descended to 4,000ft, turning off instructions from the aircraft's computerised guidance system or flight director.

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Similar circumstances led to the crash of AF 447 on June 1, 2009, which killed 228 passengers and crew. In that case, however, the crew made a series of calamitous misjudgments, which led the aircraft to plunge into the ocean.

The BEA report suggested the crash was caused by a mixture of systems failure and pilot error, but also suggested the pilots may have been led into error by the computerised flight director.

Air France and Airbus were placed under formal investigation for manslaughter in March last year.


Mr Rapoport quotes a French aviation expert as saying: "If Air France and Airbus had notified Airbus pilots about the specifics of this near-disaster on the Madagascar-bound flight, new emergency procedures and better training could have saved the lives of 228 passengers and crew."

Jacques Rocca, a spokesman for Airbus, yesterday dismissed these conclusions as "false". He said: "To suggest that we failed to warn airlines or pilots that flight directors are unreliable when the pitot tubes fail is absurd. All pilots know this already."

Mr Rapoport's book is an updated English-language version of a book published in French last year. It went online last night and will appear in a print version shortly as 'The Rio-Paris Crash: Air France 447'. (© Independent News Service)

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