However, it was a 32-year-old co-pilot – the least experienced of three pilots on board – who was at the controls until the final minute of the flight. The plane hit the ocean 4-1/2 minutes after the autosystems disengaged, falling at a rate of nearly 11,000 feet per minute.
The Air France pilots apparently tried to bring the nose of the plane up when it stalled, contrary to the conventional wisdom that pushing the nose down will help increase airspeed and bring an aircraft out of a stall, according to an aviation expert quoted by Bloomberg.
“The question is why the pilot kept giving nose-up inputs when the plane was in a stall,” said Paul Hayes, director of safety at Ascend Worldwide Ltd., a London-based aviation consultant company. “You should put the nose down to recover speed.”
Air France praised the professionalism of the pilots in the final moments of the flights, but numerous reports suggest that the airline had failed to give them the training necessary to respond to such a crisis at high altitude – a fault it is now trying to remedy with new training procedures.
AVweb, a prominent source of online aviation news, reports that the type of stall that occurred over the Atlantic on May 31, 2009, was not unfamiliar to Airbus. Shortly after the crash, investigators found that similar airspeed sensor malfunctions had occurred on 13 other wide-bodied Airbus planes, causing “both the autopilot and autothrottles to disconnect.”