Every journalist who has writtten in the past few years about the 2009 Air France accident has eventually ended up asking the same question … why did an experienced crew react to the weather the way they did, as well as to the failure of some of the flight instruments aboard the A330 and why did none of them recognize that their airplane was falling from the sky.
Now we might have at least one of the answers; sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation reports sleep deprivation can impair a person’s reaction times and performance even more than alcohol consumption. The more significant the deprivation, the greater the impairment.
The French news magazine Le Point broke a story on Saturday based on a transcript of the Air France 447′s cockpit voice recorder that until now was unknown. Le Point reports Captain Marc DuBois telling his two cockpit crewmembers less than two hours after departure from Rio, “I didn’t sleep enough last night. One hour – it’s not enough.” Another story in Saturday’s Mail Online said the two co-pilots also lacked adequate rest before the Rio to Paris flight began on the evening May 31, 2009. Flight crew rest, especially for pilots traveling across multiple times zones as was the Air France crew, has become the focus of major regulatory actions in both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years. The revelations about the fatigued states of these pilot before they began what would have been a 10-hour flight to Paris are certain to alter how the industry evaluates the amount of rest any flightcrew has had prior to takeoff.
The original BEA accident report published in July 2012 said the BEA, “was not able to determine exactly the activities of the flight crew members during the stopover in Rio, where the crew had arrived three days earlier. It was not possible to obtain data on their sleep during this stopover.” The BEA then had no real sense of how much sleep the captain or the other pilots may have had at all during the layover, only that prior to the flight that night — according to this new report — they were already sleep deprived. From the general conversations evaluated in the BEA report, as well as the fact that required cockpit duties seemed to get finished on time, the BEA initially believed fatigue was not an issue.
Precisely why the information about the pilot’s fatigued states was never made public until now — not even to the families of the victims — is unclear. Some sources believe the French judicial system may have classified the information as private. Obviously it’s not private any longer.
The level of Captain Dubois’ fatigue and his slowed reaction time might explain how long it took him to return to the cockpit when called by the two co-pilots. It might also explain Dubois’ inability to take command of the situation when he did return and use his skills to halt the A330′s plunge into the waters of the South Atlantic killing everyone on board. Sleep deprivation would also have slowed the reaction times of the other two pilots during the emergency.
Rob Mark, Publisher