‘Damn it, we are going to crash, it cannot be true!’: Terrified final words of pilot on doomed Air France jet
Doomed: Flight captain Marc Dubois, left, was not in the cockpit when the plane stalled. Right, Pierre-Cedric Bonin said he had lost control of the aircraft
‘Damn-it! We’re going to crash. It can’t be true,’ says one of the pilots.
‘But, what’s happening?’ another replies, seconds before the Airbus 330 plunged into the water, killing everyone on board including five Britons and three Irish doctors.
Until now only selected excerpts from the conversation between 37-year-old David Robert, Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, and Marc Dubois, the 58-year-old captain of the plane, have been released.
Air accident investigators kept the rest hidden, saying they did not want to upset families of the pilots lost in the worst crash in the company’s history.
But Jean-Pierre Otelli, a veteran French flying instructor, has now written a book in which he lays the dramatic moments bare.
Rio-Paris Crash: A Collection of Pilot Errors describes how the men failed to deal with a loss of lift.
Mr Dubois, who had 11,000 flying hours behind him, was on a routine break when it happened, leaving his two subordinates in charge.
‘So, is he coming?’ Mr Robert is heard muttering, even swearing in frustration when Mr Dubois takes a full minute to get back to the cockpit.
‘Hey, what are you…’ Mr Dubois is heard to say when he gets back, to which Mr Robert replies: ‘What’s happening? I don’t know, I don’t know what’s happening.’
Instead of lowering the plane’s nose to deal with the stall – as they should have done according to normal procedures – they raised it.
Mr Bonin is heard saying: ‘I’ve got a problem I don’t have vertical speed. I don’t have any indication,’ before his captain replies: ‘I don’t know, but right now we’re descending.’
Air France argues that the pilots were baffled by numerous confusing signals from the Airbus, while the plane manufacturer insists that it was responding properly.
As the plane approaches the sea, the crew began conversing in short, panicked questions.
THE FINAL MOMENTS
David Robert: ‘Go back up!… Go back up!… Go back up!… Go back up!’
Pierre-Cedric Bonin: ‘But I’ve been going down at maximum level for a while.’
Marc Dubois: ‘No, No, No!… Don’t go up!… No, No!’
Mr Dubois: ‘Damn-it! We’re going to crash. It can’t be true!’
Mr Bonin: ‘But what’s happened?!’
‘What do you think? What do you think? What should we do?’ said Mr Robert, while the plane rocked from side-to-side.
‘I don’t have control of the plane, I don’t have control of the plane at all,’ Mr Bonin replied, as a stall alarm resounded for the sixth time in two minutes.
According to an official report released earlier this year, the last words were from Captain Dubois who said: ‘Ten degrees pitch.’
Mr Otellis writes: ‘The real question is who will be held responsible for this mess.
‘It is a training problem, fatigue, lack of sleep, or is it due to the fact the pilots are confident than an Airbus can make up for all errors?’
France’s air accident investigation unit, the BEA, reacted angrily to the publication of the book, with a spokesman saying printing the conversation showed a ‘lack of respect to the memory of the crew who died’.
Air France has denied that its pilots were incompetent, but has since improved training, concentrating on how to fly a plane manually when there is a stall.
Both Air France and Airbus are facing manslaughter charges, with a judicial investigation led by Paris judges under way.
A judge has already ordered Air France to pay some £120,000 in compensation to the families of each victim, but this is just a provisional figure which is likely to multiply many times over.
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