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This photo provided Sunday May 1, 2011 by France's air accident investigation agency, the BEA, shows the flight data recorder from the 2009 Air France flight that went down in the mid-Atlantic. (Johann Peschel/AP/Johann Peschel/AP)
This photo provided Sunday May 1, 2011 by France's air accident investigation agency, the BEA, shows the flight data recorder from the 2009 Air France flight that went down in the mid-Atlantic. (Johann Peschel/AP/Johann Peschel/AP)

The last harrowing minutes inside Air France 447's cockpit Add to ...

Air France 447 was en route from Brazil to France when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all passengers and crew members. Part of an investigation released this week included a transcript from cockpit recordings made during the final minutes, when the pilot and two co-pilots struggled to understand how and why the plane was plummeting through the air.

But just eight minutes before the crash, conditions inside the cockpit seemed normal. Co-pilot Pierre-Cédric Bonin, 32, was flying the plane with co-pilot David Robert, 37. Pilot Marc Dubois was napping, a common practice during long flights. They were flying near an electrical storm and Bonin warned one of the flight attendants that turbulence was ahead. "We ought to be in an area where it will start moving about a bit more than now," he said to the flight attendant. "You'll have to watch out there."

Below you'll find the cockpit transcription with annotation, flight times and altitudes. Speech that was difficult to understand is contained in brackets.


2:06 a.m.


35,024 ft

  • Bonin: [To flight attendant] Thanks I’ll call you when we’re out of it. ... [To co-pilot] Standard plus thirteen. ... [Laughs.] Lucky we’re on a 330, eh? We wouldn’t be so clever if we were on a full 340.
  • Robert: That's for sure.
  • The co-pilots laugh about flying the Airbus 330, which performs better at higher altitudes than the Airbus 340.
  • Bonin: Minus forty-two, we won’t use the anti-ice — that’s a plus.
  • Temperatures outside are warmer than forecast, preventing the plane from flying over the storm or at their expected altitude.

    2:07 a.m.
  • Bonin: See, we’re really on the edge of the layer (and under the squall). ... I mean I’m sure that with three-six-zero no standard would be good, we’d be ok eh?

  • 2:08 a.m.
  • Robert: Don’t you maybe want to go to the left a bit?
  • Bonin: Excuse me?
  • Robert: You can possibly go a bit to the left. I agree that we’re not in manual, eh? ... Well you see at 20 with the... What I call manually, ah no we’re in computed... It's... It's me who just changed to max eh?
  • Bonin: Ah (...) you did something to the A/C. ... No but to the A/C.
  • Robert: I didn't touch it.
  • Bonin: What's that smell now?
  • A strange smell fills the cockpit, a consequence of the nearby electrical storm.
  • Robert: It's... it's ozone.
  • Bonin: It's ozone, that's it we're alright.
  • Robert: That's why.
  • Bonin: You can feel already that it's a lot hotter.
  • Robert: That's what's hot and ozony.

  • 2:09 a.m.


    34,664 ft

  • Bonin: What's that, is it specific to FIT?
  • Robert: The ozone?
  • Bonin: Yeah.
  • Robert: No.
  • Bonin: No?
  • Robert: No, it's, er, it's the air, with an electrical charge.
  • Bonin: Ah yes, alright who...
  • Robert: Who...
  • Bonin: That's it there (go back down).
  • Robert: It's amazing how hot it is all of a sudden.
  • Background noise increases, something pilots who have flown the Airbus said is typical of ice crystal impact.
  • Bonin: There I've taken it down a bit.

  • 2:10 a.m.


    34,976 ft

  • Bonin: There you are.
  • Robert: It's free.
  • Bonin: (?) Go ahead.
  • Robert: (?) Go on.
  • Bonin: Do you [want] us to put it on ignition start?
  • Autopilot disconnection warning sounds.
  • One of the plane's externally-mounted sensors has iced over, which automatically turns off the auto-pilot.
  • Bonin: I have the controls.
  • Robert: Alright.
  • Bonin inexplicably pulls back on the stick, causing the plane to climb. The report issued Thursday by the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses said Bonin's attitude in the minutes leading up to the autopilot being disengaged added to their highly-charged emotional reactions. "Three seconds after the autopilot disconnection, surprise was a pilot's natural reaction," the report read.
  • Bonin: Ignition start.
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall.
  • Robert: What is that?
  • Bonin: We haven't got a good... We haven't got a good display of speed.
  • Robert: We've lost the, the, the speeds so... engine thrust ATHR engine lever thrust. ... Alternate law protections (low)... Wait we're losing... wing anti-ice... Watch your speed.
  • Bonin: Okay, okay okay I'm going back down.
  • Robert: Watch your speed... Stabilize.
  • Bonin: Yeah.
  • Robert: Go back down. ... According to that we're going up. ... According to all three you're going up so go back down.
  • Bonin: Okay.
  • Robert: You're at... Go back down.
  • Bonin: It's going, we're going (back) down.
  • Robert: Gently.... I'll put you in, in ATT... What's that...
  • Bonin: We're in... yeah we're in climb.
  • Robert: Where is he, er?
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall. Stall. (noise continues)
  • Robert: [expletive]

  • 2:11 a.m.


    37,924 ft

  • Robert: Above all try to touch the lateral controls as little as possible, eh?
  • Bonin: I'm in TOGA eh.
  • TOGA is an acronym for "Take Off, Go Around," usually used for taking off and landing. Planes need to gain speed and altitude quickly to take off, so pilots power up the engines and increase the pitch. Bonin is apparently telling Robert that he's performing TOGA maneuvers. At high altitudes, however, thin air makes it difficult to pick up speed and increase altitude. Pitching up can actually reduce speed and invariably cause the plane to fall.
  • Robert: [Expletive.] Is he coming or not?
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall. (noise continues)
  • Robert: But we've got the engines, what's happening? ...
  • Robert: Do you understand what's happening or not?
  • Bonin: ... I don't have control of the airplane anymore now. ... I don't have control of the airplane at all.
  • Robert: Controls to the left.
  • The more senior pilot takes the controls. Even though the plane is pitched upwards, it continues to fall. The stall warning continues to sound.
  • Robert: What is that?
  • Bonin: I have the impression (we have) speed.
  • Noise of cockpit door opening.
  • Pilot: Er what are you (doing?)
  • Robert: What's happening? I don't know, I don't know what's happening.
  • Bonin: We're losing control of the airplane there.
  • Robert: We lost all control of the airplane, we don't understand anything, we've tried everything.
  • Pilot: So take that, take that.
  • Robert: Take that, take that.
  • Pilot: [Expletive.]
  • Robert: Try to take that.
  • Bonin: I have a problem, it's that I don't have vertical speed indication.

  • 2:12 a.m.


    29,736 ft

  • Pilot: Alright.
  • Bonin: I have no more displays.
  • Robert: We have no more valid displays.
  • Bonin: I have the impression that we have some crazy speed, no? What do you think?
  • Robert: No. ... No above all don't extend (the)
  • Bonin: No? Okay.
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall. (noise continues)
  • Robert: Don't extend.
  • Bonin: We're still going down.
  • Robert: We're pulling. ... What do you think about it, what do you think? What do we need to do?
  • Pilot: There, I don't know. There, it's going down.
  • Bonin: There you are. ... That's good, we should be wings level, no it won't (not)
  • Pilot: The wings to flat horizon, the standby horizon.
  • Robert: The horizon (second)... Speed?
  • Bonin: Okay.
  • Robert: You're climbing.
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall. (noise continues)
  • Robert: You're going down, down, down.
  • Pilot: [Expletive.] (Going down.)
  • Bonin: Am I going down now?
  • Robert: Go down.
  • Pilot: No you climb there.
  • Bonin: I'm climbing, okay? So we're going down.
  • Pilot: You're climbing.
  • Bonin: Okay, we're in TOGA. ... What are we here? ... On alti, what do we have here?
  • Pilot: [Indiscernible] it's impossible.
  • Bonin: In alti, what do we have?
  • Robert: What do you mean on altitude?
  • Bonin: Yeah yeah yeah, I'm going down, no?
  • Robert: You're going down, yes.
  • Pilot: Hey you. ... You're in... Get the wings horizontal.
  • Robert: Get the wings horizontal.
  • Bonin: That's what I'm trying to do.
  • Pilot: Get the wings horizontal.
  • Bonin: I'm at the limit ... with the roll.
  • Synthetic voice Dual input.
  • Even though Robert has taken the controls, both co-pilots continue to fly the plane, resulting in "dual input" warnings.

    2:13 a.m.


    10,092 ft

  • Pilot: The rudder bar. ... Wings horizontal... go... gently, gently. ... Hey er...
  • Robert: We lost it all at [expletive] left. ... I've got nothing there.
  • Pilot:(Eh). ... What do you have there? ... No wait.
  • Bonin: We're there, we're there, we're passing level one hundred.
  • Robert: Wait, me, I have, I have the controls eh?
  • Bonin: What is... how come we're continuing to go right down now?
  • Robert: Try to find what you can do with your controls up there.. .. The primaries and so on.
  • Pilot:([Expletive] do anything.) It (won't do) anything.
  • Bonin: [Expletive] at level one hundred. ... Nine thousand feet.
  • Pilot: Careful with the rudder bar there.
  • Robert: Climb climb climb climb.
  • Bonin: But I've been at maxi nose-up for a while.
  • Synthetic voice Dual input.
  • Pilot: No no no don't climb.
  • Robert: So go down.
  • Synthetic voice Dual input.
  • Robert: So give me the controls, the controls to me, controls to me.
  • Bonin: Go ahead you have the controls, we are still in TOGA eh?
  • Pilot: (So wait) AP OFF.
  • Synthetic voice Stall. Stall. Stall. Stall.
  • Bonin: (Gentlemen.)

  • 2:14 a.m.


    4,024 ft

  • Synthetic voice Dual input.
  • Pilot: Watch out you're pitching up there.
  • Robert: I'm pitching up.
  • Pilot: You're pitching up.
  • Robert: I'm pitching up.
  • Bonin: Well we need to we are at four thousand feet.
  • Pilot: You're pitching up.
  • Synthetic voice Sink rate. Pull up.
  • The "sink rate" warning tells pilots that the rate of descent is too great. Humans aren't able to detect the rate of a decline in altitude like they can the increase in altitude.
  • Pilot: Go on pull.
  • Synthetic voice Pull up.
  • Bonin: Let's go pull up pull up pull up.
  • Synthetic voice Pull up. Stall. Stall. Pull up. Priority right. Pull Up.
  • Bonin: [Expletive] we're going to crash. ... This can't be true.
  • Synthetic voice Pull up.
  • Bonin: But what's happening?
  • Pilot: (Ten) degrees pitch altitude.
  • Synthetic voice Pull up.
  • 2:14:28
    End of recording.
    Source: The the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses
    Interactive by Stuart A. Thompson

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