What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447

Popular Mechanics published and translated a partial transcript of the cockpit voice recorders of the doomed flight Air France 447. As the flight data recorders indicated, one of the pilots was pushing the nose up the entire time the stall took place. The voice recorder does not indicate why the first officer made this simple but tragic mistake, however. It simply indicates the level of confusion in the cockpit, and the unfortunate fact that the other two pilots realized the error far too late.

We now understand that, indeed, AF447 passed into clouds associated with a large system of thunderstorms, its speed sensors became iced over, and the autopilot disengaged. In the ensuing confusion, the pilots lost control of the airplane because they reacted incorrectly to the loss of instrumentation and then seemed unable to comprehend the nature of the problems they had caused. Neither weather nor malfunction doomed AF447, nor a complex chain of error, but a simple but persistent mistake on the part of one of the pilots.

Human judgments, of course, are never made in a vacuum. Pilots are part of a complex system that can either increase or reduce the probability that they will make a mistake. After this accident, the million-dollar question is whether training, instrumentation, and cockpit procedures can be modified all around the world so that no one will ever make this mistake again—or whether the inclusion of the human element will always entail the possibility of a catastrophic outcome. After all, the men who crashed AF447 were three highly trained pilots flying for one of the most prestigious fleets in the world. If they could fly a perfectly good plane into the ocean, then what airline could plausibly say, “Our pilots would never do that”?

via Air France 447 Flight-Data Recorder Transcript – What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447 – Popular Mechanics.

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