Two senior pilots flying the doomed Air France plane which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, killing all on board including three Irish doctors, were asleep until moments before it hit a tropical storm.
The flight recorder on board Air France 447 shows the least experienced member of the pilot team was in charge while Captain Marc Dubois and co-pilot David Robert were asleep.
The plane crashed into the sea having taken off from Rio in Brazil en route to Paris on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 on board.
Among the victims were Irish doctors Jane Deasy, Eithne Walls, and Aisling Butler.
An investigation article in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair outlines how one of the pilots is heard on a black box recording saying, “Fuck! We’re dead!” just seconds before the Airbus 330 hit the water.
The black box recorder was recovered only two years after the crash — the reason for which was the quick forming of ice crystals which clogged the plane’s external airspeed detectors or ‘pitot tubes’.
However, the article raises the strong possibility that the accident could have been avoided had the captain or the co-pilot been in the cockpit when the gravity of the crisis became apparent.
It is claimed that Captain Dubois had only received one hour’s sleep the night before and only returned to the cockpit almost two minutes after the plane reverted back to pilot control, having been on autopilot.
As the plane stalled in the air, the pilot at the controls failed to lower the nose of the plane to deal with it and instead raised it. Alain Bouillard, the lead investigator into the crash, is quoted in the article as saying: “If the captain had stayed in position through the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, it would have delayed his sleep by no more than 15 minutes and, because of his experience, maybe the story would have ended differently.
“I do not believe it was fatigue that caused him to leave [the cockpit]. It was more like customary behaviour, part of the piloting culture within Air France.
“And his leaving was not against the rules. Still, it is surprising.
“If you are responsible for the outcome, you do not go on vacation during the main event.”
It is claimed that Captain Dubois spent the day before the transatlantic flight in Rio with his girlfriend.
The crisis on board occurred four hours and 15 minutes into the flight.
The black box recorder reveals Mr Robert saying: “Fuck, we’re going to crash! It’s not true! But what’s happening?”
Then either he or the captain is heard to say: “Fuck! We’re dead!”
Jane Deasy, 27, from Dublin; Aisling Butler, 26, from Co Tipperary; and Co Down woman Eithne Walls, 28, had studied together in Trinity College Dublin and had been on a break overseas together when the plane disaster took place.
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