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Air France defends pilots after Rio-Paris flight crash report

Reuters/Charles Platiau

Air France denied its pilots were to blame for the 2009 crash of the Rio-Paris flight that killed 228 people, after a report released Friday said the crew had made a series of errors.

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"Nothing at this stage can allow the crew's technical competence to be blamed" for the crash, the airline said in a statement.

The company claimed that the altitude-loss alert system failed to function properly.

The investigators from French aviation authority BEA said that the pilots made several, partly due to a lack of training, claiming that:

  • They failed to react correctly when the Airbus jet lost altitude after its speed sensors froze and failed;
  • They lacked training to deal with the sensors' failure;
  • They "did not formally identify the loss of altitude", despite an alarm ringing for nearly a minute.
     

The BEA's report, the third on the crash, said the pilots failed to notice that the plane had lost altitude after its speed sensors, known as Pitots, malfunctioned.

Air France replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.

Both Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.

The BEA report is not an official attribution of blame, according to ministers.

"The BEA establishes the facts and makes recommendations based on those facts," Environment and Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on RTL radio Friday. "As to who is responsible, that is up to the courts."

But victims' families fear that big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France will have undue influence on the outcome.

"The economic stakes take precedence over the search for the truth," said Robert Soulas, leader of a victims' relatives' association.
 

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