Air France Flight 447, a scheduled long-haul flight departs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bound for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. Just after three hours later, the last verbal communication with the aircraft takes place.
After that, radio silence. When the flight failed to respond to calls from air traffic controllers and from another Air France flight, the alert was raised. It was soon discovered that the plane had gone down in the Atlantic; all 228 souls onboard perished.
It would be nearly two years later that the aircraft’s flight data recorders were recovered from the bottom of the ocean, and an accurate picture of the events that led to the crash was pieced together.
The aircraft involved in the accident, an Airbus 330, is usually crewed and flown by two pilots. However, because the Rio de Janeiro-Paris route (a 13-plus hours long flight) exceeds the maximum 10-hour allowed duty time, a third officer was added to the crew. Thus, one crew member can always take a rest without compromising the two-man rule.
A damning new report published in Vanity Fair today however, reveals the fact that two pilots were asleep shortly before the crash. It was in fact the less experienced officer, 32-year-old Pierre Cedric-Bonin, who had been left to fly the aircraft on his own. This was in direct contravention of Air France regulations.
Failure of the aircraft’s pitot tubes due to icycle formation, and incorrect reactive measures taken by the flight crew would be officially listed as causes of the crash. The aircraft entered into a high altitude stall from which it never recovered. It descended rapidly from nearly 40,000 feet (above its operation ceiling) and slammed into the Atlantic Ocean belly-first with its engines revving up at 100% power. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, killing everyone on board.
As a result of the crash, Air France modified its training scenarios to deal with high altitude stall events.