An error by a junior pilot may have sent an Air France airbus into a three- and-a-half minute spiral into the South Atlantic which killed all 228 aboard in June 2009.
Although accident investigators refuse to apportion blame at this stage, chilling details of the last four minutes of Air France Flight 447, released yesterday, point to a mistaken decision by a pilot to lift the nose of the Airbus A330 when it went into the first of three stalls.
Preliminary findings from two black boxes, found three miles deep in the ocean last month, confirm that the failure of the aircraft's speed detectors, or pitot tubes, helped trigger the accident.
An interim report released by the French air accident investigation bureau, also confirmed that the captain of the Rio to Paris flight was away from the cockpit when the airbus stalled for the first time.
His absence, first reported in i earlier this month, was not in itself unusual but his two co-pilots are heard on the voice recorder making desperate appeals for him to return to the flight deck. By the time he did so, the plane had gone into an uncontrollable spin.