Air France and Airbus should stand trial for “involuntary manslaughter” over the deadly 2009 Atlantic plane crash, a court has ruled.
Flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed after disappearing from radar screens on 1 June, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board.
The wreckage and the black boxes of the aircraft were not found until two years later, at a depth of almost 4,000 metres.
In 2012, French investigators found the crew had mishandled the situation when the plane’s speed measurement sensors iced up in a storm, which prevented the pilots from having the correct information about their navigation conditions.
And on Wednesday, the Paris Court of Appeal referred both the airliner and aircraft manufacturer to a criminal trial, after twelve years of legal disputes.
The case had previously been dismissed by judges in 2019, who stated that investigations had failed to establish any failure on the part of Airbus or Air France, in connection with the crash or pilot error.
But in a major reversal, the Paris Court has overturned the initial decision.
When the decision was announced, the few relatives of the victims present in court hugged each other in tears, relieved.
“It is a great satisfaction to have the feeling that we have finally been heard by the courts,” said Danièle Lamy, president of the AF447 Entraide et Solidarité association.
Pilots unions have also welcomed the court’s reversal, arguing that only the plane’s crew, and not the manufacturer or company, had been found responsible for the crash.
But Airbus’ lawyers have immediately announced that they will appeal to the Supreme Court, denouncing an “unjustified decision”.
Air France has also indicated that it will appeal and reiterated that the company “did not commit any criminal fault at the origin of this accident, however tragic it may have been.”
The company also stated that it “renews its confidence in all its pilots and flight crew and recalls that the safety of its customers and staff is absolutely imperative”.
Air France and Airbus have previously appeared in court in France over the deadly A320 crash at Mont-Saint-Odile near Strasbourg in 1992, which killed 87 of the plane’s 96 occupants. The company and the manufacturer were both acquitted.