Two years after the Airbus 330 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, Air France 447’s flight-data recorders finally turned up. The revelations from the pilot transcript paint a surprising picture of chaos in the cockpit, and confusion between the pilots that led to the crash.
As the stall warning continues to blare, the three pilots discuss the situation with no hint of understanding the nature of their problem. No one mentions the word “stall.” As the plane is buffeted by turbulence, the captain urges Bonin to level the wings—advice that does nothing to address their main problem. The men briefly discuss, incredibly, whether they are in fact climbing or descending, before agreeing that they are indeed descending. As the plane approaches 10,000 feet, Robert tries to take back the controls, and pushes forward on the stick, but the plane is in “dual input” mode, and so the system averages his inputs with those of Bonin, who continues to pull back. The nose remains high.
02:13:40 (Robert) Remonte… remonte… remonte… remonte…
Climb… climb… climb… climb…
02:13:40 (Bonin) Mais je suis à fond à cabrer depuis tout à l’heure!
But I’ve had the stick back the whole time!
At last, Bonin tells the others the crucial fact whose import he has so grievously failed to understand himself.
02:13:42 (Captain) Non, non, non… Ne remonte pas… non, non.
No, no, no… Don’t climb… no, no.
02:13:43 (Robert) Alors descends… Alors, donne-moi les commandes… À moi les commandes!
Descend, then… Give me the controls… Give me the controls!
Bonin yields the controls, and Robert finally puts the nose down. The plane begins to regain speed. But it is still descending at a precipitous angle. As they near 2000 feet, the aircraft’s sensors detect the fast-approaching surface and trigger a new alarm. There is no time left to build up speed by pushing the plane’s nose forward into a dive. At any rate, without warning his colleagues, Bonin once again takes back the controls and pulls his side stick all the way back.
02:14:23 (Robert) Putain, on va taper… C’est pas vrai!
Damn it, we’re going to crash… This can’t be happening!
02:14:25 (Bonin) Mais qu’est-ce que se passe?
But what’s happening?
02:14:27 (Captain) 10 degrès d’assiette…
Ten degrees of pitch…
Exactly 1.4 seconds later, the cockpit voice recorder stops.