The final minutes of Air France flight AF447 will be scrutinized as soon as the test begins. Plane crash

In the final minutes of an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which went into freefall and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, all 228 people on board were killed, in a historic test run in Paris on Monday will be examined.

Two aviation industry giants – airline Air France, and aircraft manufacturer Airbus – are being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter, the worst plane crash in French airline history.

It is the first time that French companies, not individuals, have been put on trial directly after a plane crash, and lawyers for families struggled for years to bring the matter to court.

The crash shook the air travel world on 1 June 2009 when flight AF447 disappeared from radar as it crossed the night sky during a storm over the Atlantic between Brazil and Senegal. The Airbus A330 had disappeared without a sign of May Day.

A few days later, the wreckage was found at sea, but it took nearly two years to locate the bulk of the fuselage and recover the “black box” flight recorder. The unprecedented French search effort involved searching 17,000 km of sea floor at a depth of 4,000 meters for more than 22 months.

The plane had 12 crew members and 216 passengers from 33 different countries, all of whom were killed.

Planes frequently crash on the ground and the AF447 Ocean crash is seen as one of a handful of accidents that changed aviation. This led to changes in safety regulations, pilot training and the use of airspeed sensors.

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The test would hear detail from the final, fatal minutes in the cockpit as the confused captain and co-pilot fought to control the aircraft.

As the plane approached the equator on its way to Paris, it entered a so-called “Intertropical Convergence Zone”, which often produces unstable storms with heavy rainfall. As a storm blew the plane, high-altitude ice crystals inactivated the aircraft’s airspeed sensor, blocking speed and altitude information. Automatic pilot functions stopped working.

The 205-tonne jet went into an aerodynamic stall and then collapsed.

“We’ve lost our speed,” a co-pilot is heard saying in the flight recording, before other indicators mistakenly show a loss of altitude, and a series of alarm messages appear on the cockpit screen. “I don’t know what’s going on,” says one of the pilots.

The historic test will consider the role of airspeed sensors and pilots.

Daniel Lamy, president of the victims’ group, Entride et Solidarit, told AFP: “We hope for a fair and exemplary trial so that this never happens again, and as a result the two defendants will make safety their priority rather than just profitability.”

Air France and Airbus face potential fines of up to €225,000 – a fraction of their annual revenue – but their reputations could suffer if found criminally responsible.

Both companies have denied any criminal negligence, and the investigating magistrates overseeing the case dropped the charges in 2019, attributing the crash primarily to pilot error.

That decision angered the families of the victims, and in 2021 the Paris appeals court ruled that there was enough evidence to allow the trial to proceed.

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“Air France … will continue to demonstrate that it did not commit any criminal negligence in causing this accident, and will request an acquittal,” the airline said in a statement to AFP.

Airbus, the maker of the A330 jet, which was put into service just four years before the crash, did not comment ahead of the test, but has also denied any criminal negligence.

The title and text of this article were amended on 10 October 2022. The flight that crashed was AF447, not AF477, as stated in an earlier version.