Soft sobs and an incredulous "No" escaped the lips of the survivors of the fatal flight from Rio to Paris when the presiding judge in Paris pronounced her verdict. The airline Air France and the aircraft manufacturer Airbus have been acquitted of the charge of negligent homicide - although according to the court they acted carelessly and carelessly. Judge Sylvie Daunis said on Monday in Paris that a clear causal connection to the crash over the Atlantic almost 14 years ago with 228 deaths could not be established.
For Bernd Gans from Vaterstetten, Bavaria, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Ines in the accident, the verdict comes as little surprise. "It was a fight of two Davids against two big Goliaths," he told the German Press Agency. Of course he was dissatisfied with the decision, but it was already foreseeable that there were few chances. "The other side did everything they could to minimize their guilt, and they succeeded."
The Air France flight AF 447 disappeared from radar screens on June 1, 2009 en route from Rio to Paris. The Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic. 28 Germans were among the dead. The cause was unclear for a long time. It was not until May 2011 that the last bodies and the flight data recorder were recovered from a depth of around 4,000 meters.
Could Air France have trained its pilots better?
The rather technical procedure dealt with the question of whether Air France could have trained its pilots better and prepared them for extreme situations. Airbus was accused of underestimating the consequences of a failure of the pilot probes responsible for measuring speed. The probes were frozen during the accident flight. An expert report had ruled in 2012 that the crew was then overwhelmed with the actually manageable situation. Airbus and Air France denied responsibility for the crash and demanded acquittal.
The court has now determined that the two companies had acted negligently or carelessly. Incidents with the probes were not sufficiently tracked by Airbus, information was withheld. Air France could have better alerted its pilots to problems with the probes. But because it cannot be clearly established that the misconduct led to the crash, they have no criminal relevance.
Nevertheless, Judge Daunis found that the companies' actions had minimized the chances of preventing the accident. In a civil hearing in September, it should be clarified whether and how much compensation should be given to the surviving dependents. The acquitted companies reacted cautiously to the verdict and expressed their condolences to the relatives.
Survivors: "That doesn't make any sense"
The judgment is sometimes difficult for the relatives of the victims to understand. Errors by the companies would be found, but they would still be acquitted, criticized a French survivor in tears in front of the courtroom. "That makes no sense."
Nevertheless, Gans, who appeared in the proceedings as a joint plaintiff, said: "It was important that the whole thing was conducted." For the bereaved, it was at least a success that there was a trial at all in the years of legal tug-of-war that followed the accident. In 2019, investigating judges initially dismissed a case. In 2021, an appeals court sent Airbus and Air France to the dock.
Gans said he was able to speak to many attorneys and survivors during the trial and learned to better understand the struggle behind the scenes. The statements of pilots would also have helped him personally in the processing. "We're definitely glad we took it upon ourselves to fight this front, these two big companies."