Air France Flight 447 trial: The airline and Airbus face manslaughter charges over crash that killed 228

Paris — More than a decade after Air France Flight 447 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean, Winfried Schmidt traveled to Paris from his native Germany to see the airline and Airbus, which made the plane involved, go on trial for involuntary manslaughter. Schmidt lost his daughter Julia, who was on the flight with her fiancé Alex Crolow, when the plane plummeted into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009.

A family friend said the young couple were on their way to see Crolow’s parents, to share the good news of their engagement.

Schmidt told CBS News that the families, who are among the civil participants in the trial that began Monday in Paris, don’t have high hopes of getting any real answers to the questions they still have, 13 years later.

“We are here because justice has not been done,” Schmidt said. “We do not have great expectations in this court.”

“It’s important to be here,” he added.

Lawyers for the families told reporters it was important to remember that while much of the trial might focus on technical issues that helped doom the flight, it was a human tragedy, and the victims should be at the center of the proceedings.

Flight 447 was travelling from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris when it dropped off radar screens in the middle of the night.

Families waited a long time for news, hoping their loved ones might somehow have survived, but it soon became clear that all 216 passengers, three pilots and nine flight crew on board had died.

Among the passengers were an infant and seven children under the age of 12. France, Brazil and Germany lost the most citizens in the air disaster.  

There was also an American couple, Anne and Michael Harris from Lafayette, Louisiana, who were on their way to Paris for a combined work and vacation trip. Three young Irish doctors, including a former dancer with Ireland’s famed Riverdance group, also died as they returned from a vacation in Brazil.

It would be two years before the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder — the so-called black boxes — were located and retrieved from the crash site almost 13,000 feet below sea level.

A lengthy investigation concluded that a number of issues were behind the crash, including a problem with atmospheric sensors on the plane known as Pitot tubes. But for four crucial minutes, the two co-pilots — who were less experienced than the senior pilot, who was on his sleep break — were unaware that they were carrying out contradictory actions as the plane plummeted toward the ocean.

When the captain returned, realized what was happening and tried to pull the plane’s nose up, it was already too late.

The investigation’s conclusions led to a number of changes, in the Pitot tubes, but also in training of Air France pilots and the layout of the cockpits in Airbus aircraft.

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