REPORTING FROM PARIS — The pilots aboard the doomed Air France passenger jet that plunged into the Atlantic more than two years ago knew they were going to crash only seconds before they hit the water, according to transcripts of their exchanges recently published for the first time.
“We’re going to crash,” says one co-pilot of Flight 447, which went down en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. “It’s not true!”
“But what’s happening?” asks the second co-pilot.
Less than three seconds later, the recording stops as the plane crashes, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board.
The exchanges, published in a book by a veteran French flying instructor, reveal that in the four minutes and 24 seconds it took the aircraft to drop out of the night sky during a tropical storm, the pilots were confused and appeared to have no idea what was happening or what to do to save the plane.
During those minutes, the “stall” warning sounded 75 times, according to the transcripts.
Air accident investigators have been able to piece together the final moments of the June 2009 flight from the data recorders recovered in May after a two-year search.
Until now, only part of the conversation between Marc Dubois, 58, the captain and the most experienced pilot, and his co-pilots, David Robert, 37, and Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, had been published out of respect for the dead men’s families.
But in the new book “Piloting Errors, Volume 5,” flying instructor Jean-Pierre Otelli gives a detailed transcript of the flight’s final minutes.
“I no longer have control of the plane. I no longer have control of the plane,” Bonin says as the plane stalls.
“What’s happening?” Robert asks. “What’s that?”
“I think we have speed!” Bonin replies as the aircraft is falling faster and faster.
Air France and the plane’s maker, Airbus -– both under investigation for manslaughter -– have conflicting interests in whether the cause of the accident is declared pilot error or technical failure.
The book reveals that two hours and 10 minutes into the flight, an alarm sounded indicating that the plane’s autopilot had disconnected. It is at this point the plane’s speed sensors are thought to have iced up momentarily, sending conflicting signals to the crew. At the time the captain was on a routine sleep break, and the most inexperienced pilot, Bonin, who had 2,900 hours of flight experience, was controlling the plane.
Despite the stall warnings, Bonin pulled the plane’s nose up, eventually causing it to stall. Otelli writes that it was the opposite of what he should have done.
“At this point, the pilot should have pushed hard on the control stick, but he [Bonin] did exactly the opposite. He pulled….It’s an instinctive reaction we find among numerous young students during their first training on stalls,” Otelli writes.
In the final moments of the flight, he concludes, crew members had entered into a fatal “vicious circle.” The more they pulled the plane up, the faster it fell; the faster it fell, the more they tried to pull the plane up.
When the second co-pilot, Robert, appeared to realize what was happening and tried to push the nose of the aircraft down, it was too late.
REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON — U.S. military drone strikes killed a top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen and the son of Anwar Awlaki, the American-born cleric killed in a similar strike two weeks ago, Yemeni security officials said.
As political unrest continues to roil Yemen, the U.S. has escalated its attacks against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the country.
Yemeni officials told reporters that nine members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the strike in southeastern Yemen, including Awlaki’s 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman Awlaki, and Egyptian-born Ibrahim Banna, whom officials described as the media chief of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
“Now is the time when they [AQAP] are on their back heels and not the time to let up, so they don’t have the time, place and space to train, plot and execute attacks. It’s the right time to accelerate,” said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.
The drone strike in Yemen came as forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been battling Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for control of southern towns and cities. The militant group and southern secessionists have exploited the nation’s chaos, especially in heavily armed tribal areas that have slipped from government control.
For years, the U.S. has supported Saleh as an ally to contain Al Qaeda from becoming entrenched along the shipping lanes of the Arabian Peninsula. But Saleh’s bloody crackdown on peaceful anti-government protests in the capital, Sana, has drawn criticism from the White House. That is likely to intensify after security forces Saturday reportedly killed at least 10 protesters who were marching toward government buildings.
New York (CNN) — Protesters upset about corporate greed rallied in New York’s Times Square Saturday night, marking the 29th day of a movement that is tapping into popular frustrations about income disparities and an ailing U.S. economy.
People hoisted signs and chanted in the iconic square as police stood watch. At least one person was arrested, according to a CNN witness.
The protest was one of several that took place in the United States and around the world on Saturday.
Protesters took to the streets again in Lower Manhattan earlier in the day. The group waved flags and banged drums, while keeping up an online presence that has helped spawn similar actions elsewhere.
Others joined the demonstrations, yelling slogans of discontent over Wall Street influence, Beltway politics and their own seeming lack of opportunity amid U.S. unemployment levels that continue to hover above 9%.
“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” chanted protesters as they meandered east of the city’s Zuccotti Park, considered a home base for the Manhattan protesters.
Columns of police on patrol and atop scooters monitored the march, but as dusk fell, it appeared largely peaceful.
Earlier, an “Occupy Wall Street” spokesman said police made several arrests outside the LaGuardia Place Citibank in Lower Manhattan, after several protesters tried to enter the bank to withdraw cash and close their accounts. Police, meanwhile, said they made the arrests after protesters refused to comply with a bank manager’s request for them to leave.