Relatives shout ‘shame’ as trial over Air France crash which killed 228 people begins

Bereaved relatives of those killed when a passenger plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean shouted “shame” and “too little, too late” at the executives of Airbus and Air France as a long-awaited trial got under way in Paris.

Both companies pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter over the crash, in all 228 people on board died after Flight AF447 nosedived during an equatorial storm while travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on 1 June 2009.

“Thirteen years we have been waiting for this day and we have prepared for a long time,” Daniele Lamy, whose son died in the crash, said before the nine-week trial opened, while German Bernd Gans – who lost his daughter – called the wait for justice “almost inhuman”.

Emotions ran high and there were some shouts of anger from the loved ones of those killed as the chief executives of Air France and Airbus, Anne Rigail and Guillaume Faury, expressed condolences during their opening statements.

The trial is expected to focus on pilot error, and the icing over of external sensors called pitot tubes.

The A330-200 plane vanished from radar between Brazil and Senegal with 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board, of 33 different nationalities.

As a thunderstorm buffeted the plane, ice disabled the pitot tubes, blocking speed and altitude information. The autopilot disconnected and the crew resumed manual piloting, but with erroneous navigation data. The plane went into an aerodynamic stall, its nose pitched upwards, before plunging into the sea.

It took two years and remote submarines to find the plane and its black box recorders on the ocean floor, at depths of more than 13,000ft, which showed that pilots had responded clumsily to the problem with the speed sensors and lurched into a freefall without responding to “stall” alerts.

Preliminary findings have called into question the efforts taken by Air France to ensure pilots were well trained, and there is confusion over how the experienced crew of three failed to understand that their jet had lost lift or “stalled”.

Checking this required a basic manoeuvre of pushing the nose down, as opposed to pulling it up as they did for much of the fatal four-minute plunge towards the Atlantic in a radar dead-zone.

Airbus, meanwhile, is accused of knowing that the model of pitot tubes on the aircraft was faulty, and not doing enough to urgently inform airlines or ensure training to mitigate the resulting risk. The model in question – a Thales AA pitot – was subsequently banned and replaced.

People react outside a partially destroyed multistorey office building after several Russian strikes hit the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv

Models present creations by Italy’s iconic fashion house Stefano Ricci at the temple of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut on the west bank of the Nile river, off Egypt’s southern city of Luxor

Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia, after a truck exploded, near Kerch

A protester hurls rocks amid clashes with Israeli soldiers following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the occupied West Bank near the Jewish settlement of Kedumimon

Ukrainian firefighters push out a fire after a strike in Zaporizhzhia amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Amnesty International activists organize a sit-in at Rome’s Capitol Hill in solidarity with protesters in Iran,

A woman takes a moment for the victims of Saturday’s soccer match stampede in front of gate 13 at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and children perform the “Tashlich” ritual in the coastal Mediterranean city of Netanya, during which “sins are cast into the water to the fish”, ahead of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar

Supporters of Brazilian former President, and candidate for the Workers Party, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva react as they watch the vote count of the legislative and presidential election, in Brasilia

AC Milan’s Charles De Ketelaere, left, collides with Empoli’s Koni de Winter and Alberto Grassi, right during their Serie A football match at the Carlo-Castellani stadium

From left, Moscow-appointed head of Kherson Region Vladimir Saldo, Moscow-appointed head of Zaporizhzhia region Yevgeny Balitsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Denis Pushilin, leader of self-proclaimed of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Leonid Pasechnik, leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic pose for a photo during a ceremony to sign the treaties for four regions of Ukraine to join Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow

A man walks through debris on a street in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Punta Gorda, Florida

Finland closes motorway so F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet pilots can practice landings in Joutsa, Finland

This handout picture released on September 27, 2022 by the Danish Defence Command shows the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as it is seen from the Danish Defence’s F-16 rejection response off the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm, south of Dueodde

Russian policemen and emergency services members work near the scene of a school shooting at school 88 in Izhevsk, Russia

The damage caused by Hurricane Fiona in Fox Roost-Margaree, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

This photograph shows an Aeropostale Boeing 737 after it overran the runway during its landing phase at night at Montpellier airport

A workshop owner checks freshly-dyed ‘Kalawa threads’, a traditional sacred orange-yellow thread used in Hindu rituals, ahead of the Navratri festival at Lalgopalganj village, India

A sunflower is pictured at a sunflower field, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Yeoncheon, South Korea

Nasibe Samsaei, an Iranian woman living in Turkey, reacts after she cut her hair during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini, outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey

Women wearing traditional attire pose for photographs as they practice the Garba, the traditional dance of Gujarat state, ahead of Navratri in Ahmedabad, India

People burn tires outside the headquarters of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency during a protest demanding them to rebuild their houses that were destroyed during the Israel-Gaza fighting in 2014, in Gaza City

Team Mexico competes in the 3 Ribbons and 2 balls group final event of the 39th FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships at the Arena Armeets in Sofia , Bulgaria

A woman eats an apple on a porch by damaged houses in the Ukrainian town of Izium, recently liberated from Russian occupation

Newly hatched sea turtles make their way into the sea after leaving a conservation center in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Tiger dancers gesture as they wait to perform during the last day of Onam celebrations in Kochi

Singapore’s Wie Qi Katelin Heng competes in the individual all-around qualification round during the 39th FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships at the Arena Armeets in Sofia (Arena Armeec hall)

lacier 3000 resort above Les Diablerets shows the Tsanfleuron pass free of the ice that covered it for at least 2,000 years next to blankets covering snow from the last winter season to prevent it from melting. – The thick layer of ice that has covered a Swiss mountain pass between Scex Rouge glacier and Tsanfleuron glacier since at least the Roman era has melted away completely. Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for the Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate

Icelandic horses play on a meadow at a stud farm in Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, as the sun rises

President Joe Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony while visiting the Pentagon in Washington

Ukrainian flags placed on statues in a square in Balakliya, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. – Ukrainian forces said on September 10, 2022 they had entered the town of Kupiansk in eastern Ukraine, dislodging Russian troops from a key logistics hub in a lightning counter-offensive that has seen swathes of territory recaptured

The Sydney Opera House is illuminated with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Sydney, Australia

Picture take photos as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth appears on the screen of the Nasdaq MarketSite billboard, after Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the nation’s figurehead for seven decades, died aged 96, according to Buckingham Palace, in Times Square, in New York, U.S.

Children of workers living in a slum play around their waterlogged dwelling after heavy rains in Bangalore

University students protest against the price of gasoline at the governor’s office in Banda Aceh

A house burns during the Fairview Fire in California, US

Devotees gather near an idol of Hindu goddess Durga, weighing around one metric tonne, as it is being placed inside a fabricated structure by a crane ahead of the Durga Puja festival in Kolkata

Members of the Colombian Navy patrol on a boat in Buenaventura. Most of Buenaventura is controled by local gangs that dispute the territory with violence and illegal economies like drug trafficking

Serena Williams acknowledges the crowd after losing to Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round of the US Open, almost certainly bringing her career to an end

Hindu devotees offer prayers on the banks of the Bagmati River on the occasion of Rishi Panchami at the end of the three-day long Teej Festival, in which Hindu women fast during the day and pray for the long lives for their husbands, in Kathmandu

A woman walks upstairs as journalists visit the office of the Gorbachev Foundation following the death of the final leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia

Displaced people sit on a tractor with their belongings as they make their way to reach safer place camp after fleeing from their flood hit homes following heavy monsoon rains in Shikarpur of Sindh province

The countdown clock of the SLS rocket with an Orion capsule, part of the Artemis 1 mission, is on a hold at T-40 minutes at the at the pad 39B in the Kennedy Space Center in Merrit Island Florida, USA

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) collides with Alpine’s Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (C) during the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at Spa-Francophones racetrack at Spa

A displaced man carries his daughters after his flood-hit home as he wade through a flooded area in Jaffarabad, a district of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province

Herdsmen lead cows during the annual cattle drive (Alpabzug) on the Saemtis Alps in Bruelisau, Switzerland

A sea turtle crawls into the sea as employees of the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry release six sea turtles, a species in danger of global extinction, on Saekdal Beach in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, South Korea

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gives a speech during a meeting of her Social Democratic party in Lahti, Finland

Members of the Honour Guard attend a rising ceremony of the Ukraine’s biggest national flag to mark the Day of the State Flag, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine

A woman sells balloons on a bridge near the Bund amid a heatwave warning, as Shanghai switches off lights along a popular waterfront to conserve energy in Shanghai, China

The relative roles of pilot or sensor error in the crash will be key to the trial, with bitter divisions between the two iconic French firms have raged behind the scenes for more than a decade over which should be blamed.

Lawyers have warned against allowing this to sideline bereaved relatives during the trial, with attorney Sebastien Busy insisting that “victims must remain at the centre of the debate”, adding: “We don’t want Airbus or Air France to turn this trial into a conference of engineers.”

It is the first time that companies in France have been tried for “involuntary manslaughter” after a plane crash, which was the worst in Air France’s history.

Each company faces potential fines of up to €225,000 (£197,438) if they are convicted – the equivalent of just two minutes of pre-pandemic revenue for Airbus and five minutes of passenger revenue for Air France.

No-one risks prison as only the companies are on trial, and victims’ families say individual managers should also be in the dock.

Nevertheless, relatives – who live in countries across the world – place great importance on the trial after a long quest for justice, while aviation industry experts believe lessons could be learnt with the potential to prevent future crashes.

“It’s not the €225,000 that will worry them. It’s their reputations… that’s what’s at stake for [the firms],” said lawyer Alain Jakubowicz.

“For us it is about something else – the truth … and ensuring lessons are learned from all these great catastrophes,” he told reporters, adding: “This trial is about restoring a human dimension.”

Air France, which has since changed its training manuals and simulations, said it will demonstrate in court “that it has not committed a criminal fault at the origin of the accident” and plead for acquittal.

Mr Faury, the head of Airbus, told reporters after the hearing that “it will be a difficult trial and we are here to offer compassion” as well as “our contribution to truth and understanding”.

Leave a Comment