The Sad Truth About The Air France Flight 447 Crash

On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 en route from Rio Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 on board, according to the BBC. It is the worst crash in Air France's history. It took two years to find the flight's wreckage and the majority of the bodies in a mountain range under the ocean (via CNN). Remote-controlled submarines were used to traverse nearly 4,000 square miles of ocean floor to do so. Due to cold temperatures and high water pressure, the bodies that were found were relatively well preserved, although some were damaged as they were lifted from the sea (per Reuters).

The flight carried 216 passengers and 12 crew members of 32 different nationalities (via The Independent). Per HuffPost, a coding system had to be created in order to catalog the injuries of the victims. Predictably, these injuries were horrendous. They included disintegration, dismemberments, and the detachment of the skin, among other things. The flight recorder was later discovered in 2011 and found that no announcement was made to the passengers regarding the imminent crash.

Like most accidents, the crash of Air France Flight 447 could have possibly been averted. The three pilots on board, however, made grievous mistakes during a period of bad weather that led to everyone's deaths (per Sky News).

Experts were baffled by the crash

Per The Independent, when traces of wreckage began to show up in the South Atlantic, officials were at a loss of what could have happened. Nothing unusual occurred during takeoff and by all accounts, things proceeded as normal for several hours (via Slate). Then suddenly, the flight disappeared from the radar without a trace. At least 12 other flights from Brazil to Europe traveled around the same time as Air France 447 (via CNN). None reported poor weather conditions, leading experts to believe the main cause of the crash to be technical issues.

However, experts cautioned that the weather can inexplicably change, thus one plane on the same route could experience conditions different than the other. It wasn't until the flight recorder was found that it was confirmed that the plane found itself in adverse weather conditions, with the appearance of St. Elmo's fire (seen above) startling one of the pilots (per The Atlantic). Ultimately, though, this was not the cause of the crash which killed all on board. 

The passengers came from diverse backgrounds and were in Brazil for a variety of different reasons. 19 of the victims were coworkers who had won a trip to Brazil for their outstanding sales stats. There were three Irish doctors who had come on vacation. Moreover, there was an 11-year-old schoolboy who was returning to the UK after visiting family.

Perhaps the worst part is knowing that the crash could have been prevented. According to ABC News, experts believed that the pilots were not adequately trained for the emergency situation they found themselves in. That's why things went downhill and disaster, seemingly out of nowhere, occurred.

The crash was mostly caused by human error

Air France 447 was a little over three hours into its flight when the trouble began (via Harvard Business Review). According to the BBC, when the storm hit, it caused the air-speed sensors to freeze. This led the autopilot to disconnect. In addition, two out of three pilots (including the captain) were asleep moments before this occurred (per Sky News).

What should have been done was to point the nose of the plane upward to stabilize it. However, the opposite occurred; the pilots misinterpreted what was happening and pointed the nose down. This led to the plane ramming into the sea at a speed of 11,000 feet per minute. Simply put, the pilots failed to react appropriately to the situation in multiple ways. This was possibly due to shock, panic, and inexperience (the junior pilot was at the controls).

If the captain would have gone to sleep later than he did, there's a strong possibility that things would have been different and he would have been there the moment things went awry. According to CNN, this is a crash that should have never happened. But it did, and it only took fewer than four minutes for the plane to descend into the ocean. One of the last things that could be heard on the voice recorder is one of the pilots saying "...we're dead."

12 years after the crash in 2021, a Paris court ruled that Air France and AirBus (the plane's manufacturer) should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter of the 228 people killed on the ill-fated flight (per France 24).