Investigations have revealed the final chilling words of three French pilots when they realised they were bound to crash. Air France is in court accused of being criminally responsible for manslaughter over the deaths of 228 flyers in 2009. Marc Dubois, 58, David Robert, 37, and Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, were in control of the aircraft when it fell from the sky into the Atlantic Ocean, and they could be heard cursing and panicking after taking advantage of a poor professional environment aboard the French flight provider.
Flight 447, an Airbus 330 that was travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, claimed the lives of 228 passengers, including five Brits and three Irish doctors, after it smashed into the surface of the sea in 2009.
Fourteen years later, Air France is being investigated for its responsibility over the incident, which has brought fresh revelations to light.
Some of the most concerning issues related to the pilots and their professional conduct, and a culture aboard flights provided by the carrier.
During the follow-up investigation, it has emerged that two of the pilots fell asleep, one after the other, when they were supposed to be navigating the plane.
Recorded cockpit conversations also revealed the moment the pilots realised they were about to crash and began cursing in disbelief.
Less than two minutes after a key piece of flight equipment failed, panic had begun setting in.
Robert could be heard saying: “F**k, we’re going to crash! It’s not true! But what’s happening?” Either Robert or Bonin added: “F***, we’re dead.” Then, four hours and 15 minutes into the cross-continental flight, it crashed into the Atlantic.
Bonin, who was referred to as a “Company Baby” due to his junior position, had been made to pilot the difficult journey while his superiors fell asleep despite lacking the requisite training for high-altitude flying.
The report read: “With most of the weather still lying ahead and an anxious junior pilot at the controls, Dubois decided it was time to get some sleep.”
Alain Bouillard, who was heading up the investigation, was unflinching in his criticism of Dubois, the most senior pilot on the flight.
He said: “If the captain had stayed in position through the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, it would have delayed his sleep by no more than 15 minutes, and because of his experience, maybe the story would have ended differently.
“But I do not believe it was fatigue that caused him to leave. It was more like customary behaviour, part of the piloting culture within Air France.
“And his leaving was not against the rules. Still, it is surprising. If you are responsible for the outcome, you do not go on vacation during the main event.”
The French air accident investigation agency, BEA, said the captain was on a break when warnings were first sounded.
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It added that there was “no evidence of task sharing” among his two co-pilots, neither of whom was trained to fly manually or at high altitudes.
It also said passengers were never told what was happening as Flight 447 dived for three-and-a-half minutes before hitting the sea.
It was later revealed that Dubois’ tiredness was likely related to him being up all night the night before with his lover, an off-duty hostess and opera singer who also died on the doomed flight.
Dubois even admitted it, saying: “I didn’t sleep enough last night. One hour – it’s not enough.”
The key details took two years to emerge as the flight’s voice recorder laid at the bottom of the sea, as did the bodies.
Air France has maintained its innocence, and denies the pilots it hired were incompetent. However, it didn’t take long for them to upgrade their pilot training.
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