Airbus and Air France Face Manslaughter Charges Over 2009 Crash

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By Vihaan Majumdar

Airbus SE and Air France-KLM will face charges of involuntary manslaughter, on trial, over the events of the deadly crash in June 2009 in the mid-Atlantic en route from Brazil to Paris. Hearings began Monday afternoon, seeking to determine whether the companies were responsible for the deaths of all 228 people on board the Airbus A330 that day.


The flight, Air France Flight 447, plunged 38,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone onboard and making it the deadliest crash in the airline’s history. Attention later turned to three sensors on the plane that measured airspeed, with an investigation finding that all three were clogged with ice after about four hours into the flight. The 2012 report found that the inaccurate speed readings caused confusion among the two co-pilots, neither of whom had much experience flying, and determined that their actions were actually counteracting each other. The plane ended up in an aerodynamic stall, sending it diving into the ocean. The senior pilot, who had returned from his nap break, was unable to correct the position of the plane. The report also focused on the inadequate training and the problems with the A330’s flight display.


CEOs of both companies gave short speeches where they expressed their sorrow and grief over the incident, while also furiously denying the accusations. Both were subject to heckling from angry family members and protesters outside the courthouse, with one shouting that Airbus had shown nothing but contempt to the victims’ families in the years following the crash.


Charges were initially dropped by investigative magistrates in 2019; however, prosecutors and plaintiffs successfully appealed the decision last year, forcing the companies to go on trial.