Three-and-a-half-minute spiral – then Air France jet crashed into the sea

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-Paris flight was away from the cockpit when the airbus stalled for the first time.

His absence, first reported in The Independent earlier this month, was not in itself unusual but his two co-pilots are heard on the cockpit voice recorder making increasingly desperate appeals for him to return to the flight deck. By the time he did so, the plane had gone into an uncontrollable spin from 38,000 feet. It finally plunged into the ocean tail first, killing all 228 passengers and crew.

The details released yesterday suggest that the pitot tubes had frozen in stormy conditions, giving contradictory speed readings on the flight deck. The automatic pilot disconnected and the most junior of the three pilots on board took over the controls. As the aircraft stalled, he twice lifted the nose – a manoeuvre which aviation experts described yesterday as "inexplicable". The correct procedure, they said, was to "lower the nose" to take the aircraft out of its stall.

Other Air France pilots said it was routine practice for captains to take a nap in a staff cabin during a long transatlantic flight. Other aviation experts have suggested, however, that it was unusual for the captain, Marc Dubois, to leave the flight deck when severe storms lay directly ahead.

The report by the accident investigation bureau says that one of the black boxes recorded the voice of the pilot at the controls saying that the speed indications were "inconsistent". The automatic pilot switched off. The most junior of the three pilots aboard, took over the controls. The "stall alarm" rang twice. The pilot tried to climb. The aircraft stalled again, and again the pilot tried to climb.

The two junior pilots appealed several times for the captain to return. He finally did so but his last words were: "On n'a aucune indication qui soit valuable" – "No instruments are reacting correctly."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence