Air France Flight 447

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Air France Flight 447
F-GZCP, the aircraft involved, seen in 2007
Date1 June 2009
SummaryEntered high-altitude stall; impacted ocean
SiteAtlantic Ocean
near waypoint TASIL
3°03′57″N 30°33′42″W / 3.06583°N 30.56167°W / 3.06583; -30.56167Coordinates: 3°03′57″N 30°33′42″W / 3.06583°N 30.56167°W / 3.06583; -30.56167
Aircraft typeAirbus A330-203
OperatorAir France
IATA flight No.AF447
ICAO flight No.AFR447
Call signAIRFRANS 447
Flight originRio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport
DestinationCharles de Gaulle Airport
Flight Path of AFR447 from Rio de Janeiro to the impact site, and intended flight path to Paris

Air France Flight 447 was a scheduled commercial flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France. The aircraft used was an Airbus A330 jet. On June 1, 2009, the A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all 228 people on board. Air France Flight 447 is currently the deadliest plane crash in Air France's history. It is the deadliest plane crash in the 21st century since the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which occurred on November 12, 2001.

Aircraft[change | change source]

F-GZCP was an Airbus A330-203, equipped with General Electric CF6-80E1A3 engines. It was delivered new from Airbus, after having its first flight on 25th February 2005, and at the time of accident, it has flown for 18,870 hours, taking off and landing 2644 times.[2]

Occupants[change | change source]


As the flight was more than 11+ hours long, there were 3 members of the Air France flight crew operating the airplane, so that each of them can take their scheduled breaks during the flight.[3] On the plane were 9 cabin crew onboard and 216 passengers.

Captain Marc Dubois, 58, is an experienced pilot with about 11,000 flight hours. He started as an Air France flight attendant. He was able to fly the Airbus A300, A320, A330 and Airbus A340. During his career, he flew different kinds of planes, from the Cessna 172, to the Boeing 737-200, passing through older airplanes such as the Caravelle 12. He has a lot of experience, being able to fly well without electronic instruments.

Relief First Officer David Robert, 37, had about 6500 flight hours under his belt. He too can fly the A320, A330 and A340, and got all his licenses at Ecole Nationale de l'Aviation Civile, the best flight school in France. He worked for both Air France and Air Calédonie, often flying between Southeast Asia and South America. He flies the TB10 Socata in his free time.

First Officer Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, has about 2900 flight hours, he is the least experienced of the trio. In 2003, he was selected as Air France “cadet” and sent by the company to the Amaury de la Grange Training Centre in Merville, in northern France, where he got his airline transport license before being employed. He also can fly the A320, A330 and A340.

Accident Sequence[change | change source]

Air France Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro International Airport for the flight to Paris' Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7.29 p.m. Brazilian time. In the first leg of the flight, the captain was in the left seat, while first officer Bonin was in the right seat. The third pilot, Robert, was resting in the small cabin behind the cockpit. The plane cruised at FL350 (35,000 feet).[2]

From 1:48 a.m. and onwards, the flight went out of radar coverage, flying to the next flight waypoint, INTOL. From then on ATC can no longer track the flight. At 1:55 a.m., the captain woke Robert up and asked him to take his place.[2] To both pilots, it was unclear of who was actually in charge, despite the fact that Bonin and Dubois had discussed who would be in charge of the flight controls before he left. Both pilots began to discuss the weather and if they should climb or not, cockpit temperature, and the ozone layer.

Then, at 2.08 a.m. Bonin changed the autopilot's heading knob to the left due to turbulence. At 2:10 and 5 seconds, both the autopilot and the auto thrust functions switched off because of icing on the outside senors, which caused the plane to receive the wrong airspeed readings. Bonin, in response, said, "I have control." before using the controls to correct the plane's slight right turn. He corrected this for the next 30 seconds as he pitches the aircraft up to balance for the "loss of altitude" that the electronic flight screens were showing him (which actually turned out to be false). As the stall warning and altitude warning horn activated, a surprised Robert noticed this and asked Bonin to watch his speed and descend. Bonin put down the nose, and the A330 no longer climbed as fast as it did previously. However, the plane was still climbing faster than normal.[4]

At about 2:11 and 6 seconds, the plane reached its maximum altitude (for the total weight that the aircraft had at the time) of 37,924 feet. The nose was pitched up to 18 degrees. The plane entered a stall and began to descend. Throughout the whole descent, the flight crew did not mention the word "stall", and multiple changes in control took place during the descent. As the aircraft descended below 8000 feet, Bonin finally admits to pulling the controls back and raising the nose when his colleague Robert shouts to "climb", with the words, "but I've had the stick all the way back for a while". The angle of attack remained above 35 degrees when valid. In the final seconds of the flight, all three pilots gave up on trying to solve the problem and desperately tried to get the aircraft to climb, and their final words were:

[02:14:19] Bonin: "Come on, pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up!"

[02:14:23] Bonin: "F*ck, we're going to crash! This can't be happening!"

[02:14:25] Bonin: "But what's happening?!"

[02:14:25] Robert: "We are dead!"

[02:14:26] Dubois: "Ten degrees of pitch!"

At 2:14 and 28.4 seconds, Air France Flight 447 crashes into the Atlantic Ocean with a final nose angle of 16.2 degrees, speed reading of 152 knots, and with a vertical speed of 10,912 feet per minute (which is roughly 102 knots). On impact, the Airbus is completely destroyed, and all 228 occupants are killed instantly by blunt force trauma.

Searches[change | change source]

At 2:20 a.m., the Air Traffic Controller at DAKAR failed to contact Air France Flight 447, which was supposed to be in DAKAR airspace already. The controller then contacted Air France, who tried to contact Flight 447, but failed.[5] At that time, people thought that the plane had "disappeared".Ships and planes then searched the area near the last-known position of Flight 447, and by 6th June, the first bodies have been found. The plane was confirmed to have crashed.

As the search for survivors ended, the search for the plane's recorders then began. Underwater vehicles were used to detect the recorders' signals that they gave out for 30 days. However, at the end of the 30 days, there was not a sign of the recorders. Other searches in 2009 and 2010 also found nothing.

Then, in 2011, the search for recorders finally ended when an underwater vehicle found the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder on 26th April and 2nd May respectively.The recorders are sent to BEA (Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile, Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety)'s headquarters for analysis and arrived on 12th May.[6]

Cause of accident[change | change source]

When the pitot tubes were blocked by ice crystals, the automatic controls of the plane, including autopilot and autothrust, switches off by itself. This had surprised the pilots, even though this was a well known phenomenon. The pilots likely never understood that the only problem they had was that the airspeed was incorrect.

The plane began to climb. During the whole climb to 38,000 feet, the crew failed to understand the situation. Even when the plane stalled and the stall warning sounded, the crew likely did not understand the stall situation they were in and so never tried to put the nose down and recover the plane from the stall. The plane remained stalled until impact with water.[5][7]

Aftermath[change | change source]

Right after the crash, Air France sped up the replacement of pitot tubes. By June 11, 2009, all the pitot tubes were changed to ones that will not freeze up when ice crystals hit them.[8]

Both Airbus and Air France were later charged with manslaughter. They were both found not guilty on April 17, 2023 by a French court with the verdict pointing toward pilot error. Victims families disagreed with the results of the trial.[9]

The flight number was changed to AF 445 after the crash and is still flown by Airbus A330-200s.[10]

Documentaries[change | change source]

There are some documentaries about the crash, including:

  • BBC's one hour documentary, produced before the recorders were discovered
  • Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation), Season 12, Episode 13
  • Fatal Flight 447: Chaos in the Cockpit

References[change | change source]

  1. BEA first 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "ASN Aircraft accident Airbus A330-203 São Pedro and São Paulo Archipelago Archived 2011-10-16 at the Wayback Machine".Aviation Retrieved 16th November 2013.
  3. "Final Report."Paragraph 1.5. Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile(BEA).Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  4. "Final report." Paragraph 1.1. BEA. July 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Air France 447: Vanished" Mayday. Season 12, Episode 13.
  6. "Final Report.Paragragh 1.11.1"Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile(BEA).Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  7. "Final Report." Section 3.2. Published July 2012, retrieved May 7, 2014.
  8. "Final Report." Section 5.1.1. Published July 2012, Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  9. "Air France and Airbus acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in 2009 crash of Flight 447 from Brazil to Paris - CBS News". 2023-04-17. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  10. "Flight AF445." Retrieved May 7, 2014.

Other websites[change | change source]