In reports which the French accident investigators have already slammed for being simplistic and incomplete Le Figaro and Le Monde say Air France flight AF447 was destroyed by (variously) pilot panic and errors and a lack of training in dealing with high speed stalls at altitude.
However it will be some time before the investigators hold a press conference in Paris.
The intriguing thing about the early reports is that if they are correct, it means the newspapers may have been told more about the disaster that killed all 228 people on board the Air France A330-200 on June 1, 2009, in the mid Atlantic, than the BEA may include in its third interim report, when published in a few hours time.
This is because the official version of this latest report on the inquiry into the disaster is the one negotiated with and approved by Air France prior to its release, while the leaks will have been blunter.
At this stage it is understood that the BEA has conceded that the auto-pilot disconnection that starts the four minutes long sequence of events that ends in a modern airliner being flown into a high speed belly flop in the ocean was triggered by ice clogging the external speed measuring probes called pitots and depriving the flight management systems of reliable air speed readings.
After that the jet climbs steeply to 37,500 feet from 35,000 feet and the two pilots left in charge of the flight deck while the captain rested had become confused about what to do, and failed to formally identify that the jet had stalled, despite prolonged audible stall warnings.
Neither had been trained by Air France to deal with high-altitude unreliable airspeed procedures and manual aircraft handling, which in itself, is an astonishing indictment of the airline.
While the pilots had plenty of time to recover from the stall they persisted with errors and incorrect diagnosis and lack of recognition of the situation they were in.
When the Captain was summonsed to the cockpit from his rest station time was lost discussing irrelevant issues as the jet rapidly lost height, meaning the Captain did not have time to resolve the problems before impact.
The BEA has already posted ten new safety recommendations relating to what will be its third interim report on the disaster, including an advisory that authorities ‘should assess‘ the requirement for angle-of-attack indicators in the cockpit. This measure of the nose high attitude of the airliner wasn’t displayed directly to the pilots.
Air France is already in damage control, telling the media that the latest findings showed a “combination of multiple improbable factors led to the disaster in less than four minutes” including the icing of the pitot probes, loss of associated control-law protection, and roll movements.
Air France is reported to have said “It should be noted that the misleading stopping and starting of the stall warning alarm, contradicting the actual state of the aircraft, greatly contributed to the crew’s difficulty in analysing the situation.
“At this stage, there is no reason to question the crew’s technical skills.”
While that may well be technically correct, there are 228 reasons to question the quality of Air France’s flight standards and the fact that it left its pilots without the skills to identify and correct a type of incident that had already happened to a number of other airlines’ A332s without leading to fatal errors.
The loss of Air France AF447 was preceded by two similar and high profile unreliable air speed problems that affected Air Caraibes A330-200s which ought to have galvanised Airbus and Air France into doing the things the BEA has now ‘recommended’.