Airbus and Air France acquitted of manslaughter charges over 2009 plane crash

17 April 2023, 13:24

Brazil France Plane Crash Verdict
Brazil France Plane Crash Verdict. Picture: PA

The crash of Flight 447 from Rio to Paris killed 228 people and led to lasting changes in aircraft safety measures.

A French court on Monday acquitted Airbus and Air France of manslaughter charges over the 2009 crash of Flight 447 from Rio to Paris.

The accident killed 228 people and led to lasting changes in aircraft safety measures.

Sobs broke out among victims’ families in the courtroom as the judges read out the decision.

The official investigation found that multiple factors contributed to the crash, including pilot error and the icing over of external sensors called pitot tubes.

The two-month trial left families wracked with anger and disappointment. Unusually, even state prosecutors argued for acquittal, saying that the proceedings did not produce enough proof of criminal wrongdoing by the companies.

Brazil France Plane Crash Verdict
Workers unload debris belonging to crashed Air France flight AF447 from the Brazilian Navy’s Constitution Frigate in the port of Recife, northeast of Brazil, on June 14, 2009 (Eraldo Peres/AP/PA)

Prosecutors laid the responsibility primarily with the pilots, who died in the crash. Airbus lawyers also blamed pilot error, and Air France said the full reasons for the crash will never be known.

Airbus and Air France had faced potential fines of up to 225,000 euros (£199,000) each if convicted.

Air France has already compensated families of those killed, who came from 33 countries. Families from around the world were among the plaintiffs, including many in Brazil.

The A330-200 plane disappeared from radar in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, with 216 passengers and 12 crew members aboard.

It took two years to find the plane and its black box recorders on the ocean floor, at depths of more than 13,000 feet (around 4,000 metres).

An Associated Press investigation at the time found that Airbus had known since at least 2002 about problems with the type of pitot tubes used on the jet that crashed, but failed to replace them until after the crash.

Air France was accused of not having implemented training in the event of icing of the pitot probes despite the risks. Airbus was accused of not doing enough to urgently inform airlines and their crews about faults with the pitots or to ensure training to mitigate the risk.

The crash had lasting impacts on the industry, leading to changes in regulations for airspeed sensors and in how pilots are trained.

The trial was fraught with emotion. Distraught families shouted down the chief executives of Airbus and Air France as the proceedings opened in October, crying out “Shame!” as the executives took the stand.

Dozens of people who lost loved ones stormed out of the court when the prosecutors called for acquittal.

By Press Association