Reacting to wildly fluctuating airspeed indications and apparently confused by repeated stall warnings, pilots of an Air France jetliner in 2009 continued to pull the nose up sharply—contrary to standard procedure—even as the Airbus A330 plummeted toward the Atlantic Ocean, according to information released Friday by French accident investigators.
The long-awaited factual report, though it doesn’t include any formal conclusions about the cause of the June 2009 crash that killed 228 people, provides details about a prolonged stall that lasted more than three and a half minutes. Throughout the descent, according to the report, “inputs made by the [pilot flying] were mainly nose-up” and the “angle of attack,” or the position of the longitudinal axis of the plane in relation to the airflow “remained above 35 degrees.”
If an airplane has entered an aerodynamic stall, which means its wings have lost necessary lift to remain airborne, from their earliest training pilots are taught to immediately push the nose down to regain speed, lift and maneuverability
The report also paints a somewhat unflattering picture of a seemingly confused cockpit, with the crew making extreme inputs to their flight controls and the engines spooling up to full power and later the thrust levers being pulled back to idle. At one point, according to the report, both pilots sitting in front of the controls tried to put in simultaneous commands.
The senior captain of the flight, who was on a routine rest break in the cabin when the trouble started, rushed back to the cockpit and was present during a large portion of the descent.
Air France praised the three pilots, who “demonstrated a totally professional attitude and were committed to carrying out their task to the very end,” the airline said in a statement.
The carrier, a unit of Air France-KLM SA, noted that “the initial problem was the failure of the speed probes which led to the disconnection of the autopilot and the loss of the associated piloting protection systems.”
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