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."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam