Airline, Jet Maker Cleared of Criminal Charges in Big Trial

Air France, Airbus were accused of manslaughter in 2009 crash of passenger jet
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 17, 2023 8:15 AM CDT
Air France, Airbus Cleared in Landmark Trial Over Crash
In this June 8, 2009, file photo released by Brazil's Air Force, sailors recover debris from the missing Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean.   (AP Photo/Brazil's Air Force, File)

A French court on Monday acquitted Airbus and Air France of manslaughter charges over the 2009 crash of Flight 447 from Rio to Paris, which killed 228 people and led to lasting changes in aircraft safety measures. Sobs broke out in the courtroom as the presiding judge read out the decision, a devastating defeat for victims’ families who fought for 13 years to see the case reach court, per the AP. The three-judge panel ruled that there wasn't enough evidence of a direct link between decisions by the companies and the crash. The official investigation found that multiple factors contributed to the disaster, including pilot error and the icing over of external sensors called pitot tubes.

The two-month trial left families wracked with anger and disappointment. Unusually, even state prosecutors argued for acquittal, saying that the proceedings didn’t produce enough proof of criminal wrongdoing by the companies. Prosecutors laid the responsibility primarily with the pilots, who died in the crash. Airbus lawyers also blamed pilot error, and Air France said the full reasons for the crash will never be known. Airbus and Air France had faced potential fines of up to $219,000 each if convicted. That would have been just a fraction of their annual revenues, but a criminal conviction for the aviation heavyweights would have reverberated through the industry.

While the court didn't find the companies guilty of criminal wrongdoing, the judges said that Airbus and Air France held civil responsibility for the crash, and ordered them to compensate families of victims. It didn't provide an overall amount, but scheduled hearings in September to work that out. The A330-200 plane disappeared from radar in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, with 216 passengers and 12 crew members aboard. It took two years to find the plane's black box recorders on the ocean floor, at depths of more than 13,000 feet.

(More Air France Flight 447 stories.)

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