Relatives of the 228 people who died in a 2009 plane crash cried ‘shame on you’ as judges in Paris Criminal Court today cleared the companies involved of wrongdoing.

‘Too little, too late’ was heard as the head of Air France, Anne Rigail, and Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus, expressed condolences in their opening statements.

The presiding judge at the trial was forced to call for calm as bereaved family members angrily called out: ‘For 13 years you have shown contempt for us!’

Flight AF447 crashed into the Atlantic on 1 June 2009 on the way to Paris from Rio when three pilots panicked and failed to deal with faulty equipment during a storm.

The ruling acquitted Air France and Airbus of ‘involuntary manslaughter’, meaning the pilots who had fallen asleep during the journey were responsible for the crash.

Among the victims were Graham Gardner, a 52-year-old oil worker from Gourock, Renfrewshire, and Arthur Coakley, 61, an engineer from Whitby in North Yorkshire.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Bjoroy, a boarder at Clifton College in Bristol, also died in the crash, along with PR executive Neil Warrior, who was 48.

Ophelie Touillou, sister of a victim of a crash, talks to the press on the verdict’s day in the trial relating to the crash of flight AF447 in 2009, at the Palais de Justice in Paris, France, 17 April

Daniele Lamy, (right), head of the ‘AF447 Help and Solidarity’ association and Marilene Lafarge, (left), mother of a victim, react after the verdict outside the courtroom

Claire Rousseau, aunt of a victim of the crash, talks to the press at the Paris courthouse on April 17, 2023 after the trial of Air France manufacturer Airbus for the crash on June 1, 2009

Eithne Walls, 29, had been working at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin and was on a trip to Brazil with friends. 

But corporate guilt was ‘impossible to demonstrate,’ the judgment reads, because investigators did not establish ‘a culpable breach by Airbus or Air France in connection with the piloting faults at the origin of the accident’.

The ruling effectively means that pilots Marc Dubois, 58, David Robert, 37, and Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, were fully responsible.

During the investigation, it emerged that two of them fell asleep, one after the other, when they were supposed to be in charge of the plane.

It was revealed that Dubois’ tiredness was likely related to him being up all night the night before with his lover – an off-duty hostess and opera singer, who died on the aircraft.

Eithne Walls (pictured), 29, had been working at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin and was on a trip to Brazil with friends

Alexander Bjoroy, an 11-year-old boarder at Clifton College in Bristol, died, as did PR executive Neil Warrior, 48

Among those who died was Graham Gardner (left), a 52-year-old oil worker from Gourock, in Renfrewshire, and Arthur Coakley (right), 61, an engineer from Whitby in North Yorkshire

Flight recordings from the cockpit of the flight revealed the pilots’ last conversation before the aeroplane crashed.

One pilot said: ‘We’ve lost our speeds. I don’t know what’s happening.’

The automatic pilot disconnected, leaving the three pilots on board in charge.

The crew held up the plane’s nose, but this sent it into an aerodynamic stall. Mr Dubois had been asleep at the time, and the co-pilots didn’t recognise the stall and therefore didn’t move to recover the mistake.

By the time he woke up, Dubois was unable to act quickly enough to save the plane.

‘Let’s go! Pull up, pull up, pull up,’ Bonin could be heard saying in the recording, moments before the crash.

‘F***, we’re going to crash! It’s not true! But what’s happening?,’ Mr Robert said.

This ‘piloting culture within Air France’ is now said to have been reformed, according to company sources.

Families and friends of those who died pursued a near 14-year fight for justice, and many of them were disgusted by the ‘not guilty’ pleas by the two companies involved at the start of the criminal trial.

Other victims included three young Irish doctors, returning from a two-week holiday in Brazil.

Eithne Walls, 29 had been working at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin and was on a trip with Aisling Butler, 26, and Jane Deasy, 27. All had been friends since they were students at Trinity College Dublin.

Both companies faced trial for ‘involuntary manslaughter’, but there were no actual people in the dock – only the firms.

This had infuriated families, as had the maximum fine possible of just €225,000 – just under £200,000.

The fine is equivalent to just two minutes of pre-COVID-19 revenue for Airbus or five minutes of passenger revenue for the airline, according to Reuters.

Undisclosed larger sums have also been made in compensation or out-of-court settlements. 

Pictured: Captain Marc Dubois, 58, (left), and co-pilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, (right)

Judges at Paris Criminal Court today ruled that the companies involved in the Flight AF447 disaster were not guilty of manslaughter. Pictured: Brazillian Navy recovering parts of the Air France A330 aircraft

The plane plunged into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, on a flight from Rio to Paris after three Air France pilots panicked and failed to deal with malfunctioning equipment on an Airbus 330 during a storm

Prosecutors accused Air France of failing to provide sufficient training in how pilots should react in case of malfunction of the Pitot tubes, which monitor speed.

The pilots provably reacted incorrectly when the plane stalled after the speed sensors froze over.

France’s BEA crash investigation agency said in a detailed chronology of the incident that commands from the controls of Bonin, the 32-year-old junior pilot on board, had pulled the nose up as the aircraft became unstable and generated an audible stall warning.

This action went against the normal procedures which call for the nose to be lowered in response to an alert that the plane was about to lose lift or, in technical parlance, ‘stall’.

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