Two Air France pilots were sleeping when their Airbus 330 ran into unexpected trouble over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009 — and one is heard on a black box recording saying, "F***! We're dead!" seconds before the plummeting plane slammed into the water, killing all 228 people on board instantly, a new investigative report in Vanity Fair magazine reveals.
The lengthy article by William Langewiesche — a 59-year-old veteran journalist and former pilot himself — details the horrifying final moments of Air France Flight 447, which, prior to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, posed one of aviation's most baffling mysteries. How could a routine flight which showed no signs of trouble suddenly disappear — seemingly into thin air?
Air France Flight 447 was headed from Rio de Janero, Brazil, back to Paris, when it disappeared from radar at 11:41 p.m.
Wreckage from the plane was finally discovered five days later, but the Air France Flight 447 "black box" flight recorder took two more years to dig up from the deep waters of the mid-Atlantic. The problem that led to the catastrophic crash, investigators learned, was instantaeously-forming ice crystals which clogged the plane's external airspeed detectors — known as "pitot tubes."
But according to the Vanity Fair article, the disaster could have been avoided if the plane's captain — 58-year-old Marc Dubois, who had only an hour's sleep the night before the flight after spending the day in Rio with his girlfriend — wasn't out of the cockpit sleeping in a passenger seat when everything started to go haywire at the controls.
Co-pilot David Robert, 37, was also dozing, leaving the plane's youngest and least experienced pilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, alone in charge of the Flight 447.
Though the Air France plane was on auto-pilot, when the air speed monitor went on the fritz, the Airbus automatically switched back to pilot control — and when it did the pilots were apparently not ready. Dubois did not even return to the cockpit until almost two minutes after the crisis began.
According to Alain Bouillard, the accident's lead investigator quoted by Langewiesche, Dubois left he cockpit to grab some shut-eye, even though he knew the Air France flight was about to fly into a massive tropical storm at 35,000 feet. If he had waited just 15 minutes, until the Airbus 330 made it through he storm, the crash could have been avoided, Bouillard believes.
"I do not believe it was fatigue that caused him to leave. It was more like customary behavior, part of the piloting culture within Air France," Bouillard says in the article. "And his leaving was not against the rules. Still, it is surprising. If you are responsible for the outcome, you do not go on vacation during the main event."
Just two seconds before Air France Flight 447 hit the water, smashing into hundreds of pieces on impact, a voice of a co-pilot on the black box recording is heard to say the chilling words, "F***! We're dead!"
Editor's note: email correspondence from Air France representatives to the Inquisitr stress the importance of the official report from the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile (BEA), France's aviation accident investigation bureau.
"[BEA] formally stated in its final report, at the time the speed indications were lost, the two co-pilots were in the cockpit at the controls of the aircraft. In addition, 1 minute and 38 seconds after the beginning of the incident, the flight captain regained the cockpit."