Probe of Air France crash in Atlantic blames pilots, training

The investigation of the 2009 crash of an Air France jet into the Atlantic Ocean concludes that the cockpit crew took the wrong steps to correct a high-altitude stall and blamed the errors on poor training of those piloting today's highly automated aircraft.

In its final report issued Thursday, the French civil aviation authority's Bureau of Surveys and Analysis said its review of flight data recorders recovered almost two years after the crash disclosed that the two junior pilots at the controls of AF 447 were "completely surprised" by the failure of cockpit instruments to guide them out of the disaster.

All 228 passengers and crew on board died in the June 1, 2009, crash of the jet en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The Airbus A330-203, built by a European consortium that includes the French government, suffered a rare cruising-altitude loss of power while the flight captain was outside the cockpit on a scheduled break, the French investigative agency reported.

It said the two copilots, both in their 30s, didn't know what to do when ice accumulation caused the aircraft's autopilot to disconnect, and that they took the opposite action from what was needed, which was nosing the plane down to recover lift.

"In the first minute after the autopilot disconnection, the failure of the attempt to understand the situation and the disruption of crew cooperation had a multiplying effect, inducing total loss of cognitive control of the situation," said the report of the investigative bureau based in Le Bourget, outside Paris.

Pilots should be trained to deal with crises when automated controls malfunction, and "a review of pilot training did not provide convincing evidence that the associated skills had been correctly developed and maintained" in the case of the Air France crew, the report concluded.

The bureau made 25 recommendations for improved training, communication and emergency response procedures, based on its analysis of the crash.

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-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

 
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