Airbus and Air France have been cleared of “involuntary manslaughter” by a French court, nearly 14 years after an airliner crashed into the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 people aboard.
The verdict came after a historic public trial focused on the disappearance of AF447 in an equatorial storm on 1 June 2009.
The family members of the victims demanded justice, but Paris prosecutors admitted that formal blame could not be proven. This was France’s first-ever trial for corporate involuntary manslaughter, where the maximum fine is €225,000.
After searching for the A330’s black boxes for two years using remote submarines, investigators discovered that the pilots responded clumsily to a problem with iced-up speed sensors and plummeted into a freefall without acknowledging stall alerts.
However, the trial also highlighted previous discussions between Air France and Airbus about the increasing problems with external “pitot probes” generating the speed readings. Both companies pleaded not guilty.
The Paris criminal court judge listed several acts of negligence by both companies but stated that they fell short of the certainty needed to establish firm liability for France’s worst air disaster.
“A probable causal link isn’t sufficient to characterise an offence,” the judge told the packed courtroom.