I have always felt I’d be doing my flight students a disservice not to mention that while soaring aloft is an unmatched experience, it can and will snuff out a life in a moment if the pilot becomes too complacent … no matter how sophisticated the aircraft’s on-board equipment.
We’ve been reminded of the seriousness of that warning again as the investigation into the crash of Air France 447 continues. A CNN story Friday highlighted some of the elements again, but also walked listeners through a few of the final words of the pilots in the cockpit two years ago, moments before the aircraft hit the water after a 4 1/2 fall from 36,000 ft. The words were part of a new book written by French journalist Jean-Pierre Otelli that includes yet unheard portions of the crew’s cockpit conversations. Granted, Otelli is known as a bit of an ambulance chaser, but the words we hear are what’s important, not necessarily his motivation is recording them.
Having read the other transcripts, this one too seems to confirm that the crew was indeed overwhelmed by the cacophony of lights and aural alerts they must have been confronted with a very short time span. I was saddened just to listen, but also well aware that this could have been any of us in this situation and also, that there is much yet to learn from this watershed accident.
From the junior co-pilot Pierre Bonin who was at the controls – “What the … How is it that we’re going down like this?”
David Robert, the more senior co-pilot – “See what you can do with the commands up there, the primaries and so on. Climb, Climb, Climb, Climb”
Bonin – “But I have been pulling on the stick all the way for a while.”
Captain Marc Dubois returns to the cockpit – “No, no, no, don’t climb.”
David Robert – “OK, give me control. Give me control.”
Dubois – “What out. You’re pulling up.”
And David Robert later … “Go back up. Go back up. Go back up.”
Bonin – “But I’ve been going down at maximum level for a while.”
Captain DuBois – “No, no, no. Don’t go up.”
Bonin – “Go down then.”
David Robert – “Damn it. We’re going to crash. This can’t be true.
Bonin – “But what’s happening?”
What is certainly not clear is whether the crew simply experienced a failure of the Air France A330 training regime in explaining how to cope with a failure most experts believed could not happen, or a more complex issue. Was it, like the Colgan crash, also an example of pilot inexperience when that Perfect Storm arrived? Or, perhaps we’ve reached a point in the integration of technology with flying where the human brain is simply incapable of translating dozens of sometimes conflicting messages into the solutions for some rather basic flying problems.
And if pilots are being overwhelmed is the case, what should we do next?
Rob Mark, Publisher