According to the first formal reports from France's air accident investigation bureau, the captain of the Paris-bound Air France plane that crashed with 228 people into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 was not at the controls when the plane began to plunge.
The Airbus 330 left Rio de Janeiro and was flying at 35,000 feet (10668 meters) when the co-pilots decided to make a slight turn to the left in an attempt to navigate around an area of turbulence. Just two minutes after executing the turn, the autopilot and auto-thrust disengaged. The flight crashed into the Atlantic, falling at 10,912 feet (3300 meters) per minute, under then-mysterious circumstances.
At the time of the event, the two co-pilots were seated in the cockpit and the captain was resting, read the report released by the French Bureau of Inquiry and Analysis (BEA) on Friday.
Pilots on long flights often take turns at control to increase alertness. Co-pilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin was at the controls as the plane's troubles began and, to his left, was second co-pilot David Robert. As Bonin, at the controls, struggled to manage the airplane, the other co-pilot attempted to call the captain back several times. According to the report, Captain Marc Dubois did not return to the cockpit until almost 2 minutes after the autopilot disengaged at 2:10 a.m. UTC.
Dubois did not take back controls as the two co-pilots unsuccessfully attempted to bring Flight 447 out of a stall. The last data on the recorder showed that the plane's nose was up at a sharp angle as it plunged into the sea.
At no point on the cockpit voice recorder is the word stall ever mentioned Chief Investigator Alain Bouillard said in an interview. The pilots saw the failure of the Airbus A330's sensors, the autopilot disengaged, and the crew reacted by pulling up, and advancing the throttles to full, according to investigators.
Several experts claim that the deactivation of the autopilot could have been caused by the icing up of the air speed probes, known as pitots.
The black box recordings stopped at 2:14 a.m. and 28 seconds. The co-pilot at the control advised the cabin crew to watch out for turbulence ahead just 8 ½ minutes earlier.
The flight recorders were found last month along with several bodies in the latest search of the ocean's depths. So far, searchers have not found the plane's pitot tubes, the speed sensors that investigators say most likely played a role in the event. Since the accident, Air France has replaced the pitots on its Airbus fleet with a newer model.
Both Airbus and Air France are being probed for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.
Air France called for the BEA's further analysis of the data to determine the precise cause of the crash, although it said it appears that the initial problem was the failure of the speed probes.