2014 the year of airline accidents and incidents, but what about the Air France Air Safety record closer to home?
At PT, we would like to remind our readers if they are considering never to fly on an Aisan Airline again that some of our European National Carriers do not have great records either, in particular Air France.
The cold reality is frightening to say the least for flight AF447 whereby 228 people died somewhere in the Atlantic, For the Perpetual Travellers amongst us, especially those that have frequented this route on previous occasions, this situation is most alarming. A number of concerning Air accidents have occurred on a worldwide scale and it has come to the point when one needs to check the safety record of an airline before committing to fly with them.
So while on the topic, what of the Air France’s safety record? Well in Air France's 70 year-long history, a total of 13 reported accidents involved actual loss of life. Here below is a selection of the chronological order of the major incidents:
On the 27th of October 1949, the Boxer Marcel Cerdan, the Violinist Ginette Neveu, members of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Walt Disney Studios chief merchandiser Kay Kamen all died when an Air France flight crashed into a mountain after two attempts to land at the São Miguel Island airport in the Azores.
On the respective nights of the 12th and 14th of June in 1950, 2 Douglas DC-4s of Air France crashed into the sea off Bahrain, as they were landing. A combined total loss of 86 lives was recorded. The first accident claimed the lives of 40 of the 53 passengers and the second 46 out of 52. Both of the aircraft operated the Karachi, Pakistan, to Bahrain portion of Air France's Saigon, Vietnam - Paris sector. Accident investigators later concluded that the pilot in command did not maintain his correct altitude until the runway lights became visible during the approach to Bahrain in the first accident. In the second accident the pilot in command did not keep an accurate check of his altitude and rate of descent during the approach procedure.
On the 3rd of February in 1951, a Douglas DC-4 operating the Douala, Cameroon, to Niamey, Niger sector of Air France, hit a 13,000+ foot high Cameroon Mountain near Bouea, West of Douala, at a height of 8,500 feet (2,600 m). The aircraft was totally destroyed, killing all 29 occupants. It is understood that the mountain was most likely only partially visible from the actual flight deck, due to the mist that was surrounding it. Although the pilot immediately turned to the left, the plane hit the steeply rising terrain with its left wing. The accident investigators concluded that the crew followed an inaccurate procedure and relied on imprecise navigation. Later the investigators also determined that the crew did not check the draft. Moreover, they cited the crew's error of judgement and over-confidence when flying over the mountain mass as additional contributory factors.
On the 3rd of March in 1952, a SNCASE Languedoc operating a passenger flight from Nice Le Var Airport to Paris Le Bourget Airport crashed shortly after take-off with the loss of all 38 lives on board. Soon after take-off from Le Var Airport, the aircraft began banking to the left. This increased progressively until the aircraft flipped over on its back and crashed. Later the accident investigators attributed the accident to the aircraft's blocked ailerons to the left, as a result of a mechanical design fault.
On the 29th of April in 1952, a Douglas C-54A operating a German internal service from Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport to Berlin Tempelhof Airport came under attack from 2 Soviet MiG 15 fighters as they were passing through one of the Allied air corridors over East Germany. Although the attack had severely damaged the plane, necessitating the shutdown of engines 3 and 4, the pilot landed safely at West Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. Following an inspection of the aircraft at Tempelhof it revealed that 89 shots hit the plane executed from the Soviet MiGs during the air attack. There were no fatalities amongst the 17 occupants (6 crew, 11 passengers). The Soviet military authorities defended this attack on a civilian aircraft by claiming the Air France plane was outside the safe air corridor at the time of attack.
On the 1st of September in 1953, a Lockheed L-749A Constellation operating the Paris-Nice portion of a passenger flight to Hong Kong crashed into Mount Cemet, France, with the loss of all 42 lives on board. The accident occurred as the flight deck crew were preparing to land at Nice's Côte d'Azur airport, being the aircraft's first scheduled stop. Later the accident investigation team established "controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)" as the cause.
On the 8th of April in 1957, a Douglas C-47B operating an Algerian passenger flight from Biskra lost height after take-off and crashed around a mile over the airport's runway, causing the loss of all 34 lives on board.
On the 31st of May in 1958, a Douglas C-47A operating a non-scheduled Algerian passenger flight from Algiers to Colomb-Béchard crashed near Molière with the loss of all 15 lives on board.
On the 29th of August 1960, a Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation operating flight AF343 from Paris to Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), via Dakar, Senegal, crashed into the sea with the loss of all 63 lives on board while the aircraft's flight deck crew made a second attempt to land at Dakar's Yoff Airport.
On the 10th of May 1961, a Lockheed L-1649A Starliner operating the Fort Lamy (now called N'Djamena), Chad, to Marseille Marignane portion of Air France's Brazzaville, Congo - Paris sector as flight AF406 crashed in the Sahara desert near Edjele, Algeria, with the loss of all 78 lives on board. The aircraft was cruising at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m) when its empennage failed. This caused it to break up in flight and crash in the Sahara desert. The accident investigators believed that the empennage separated from the rest of the aircraft as a result of the detonation of a nitrocellulose explosive device.
On 12 September in 1961, a Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle III operating the Paris Orly-Rabat-Casablanca sector as flight AF2005 crashed near Rabat's Sale Airport with the loss of all 77 lives on board. At the time of the accident meteorological conditions in the local area were thick, low fog. The poor weather conditions reduced horizontal visibility and ceiling. The pilot informed ATC that he wanted to attempt a break-through over the NDB. The aircraft was destroyed by fire as it hit the ground, instantly killing everyone on board. The accident investigators cited the commander's error in reading his instruments as the most likely cause.
On the 3rd of June in 1962, a chartered Boeing 707-328 (registration F-BHSM), Chateau de Sully, flying from Orly Airport, Paris, France, to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Atlanta, USA, crashed at Orly during takeoff. 130 out of 132 people on board were killed. Two flight attendants sitting in the rear section of the aircraft were saved. The investigation found a faulty servo-motor, which led to an improper (also non-adjustable) elevator trim. Amazingly brake marks measuring 1,500 feet (457 m) were found on the runway, indicating that the flight deck crew tried to abort takeoff. The aircraft rolled right while only 7 feet (2 m) from the ground, causing its right wing to hit the ground. It crashed 50 yards (45 m) from the runway and exploded. Of the passengers 106 were Atlanta art patrons who had finished a tour of European capitals. Ann Uhry Abrams, the author of Explosion at Orly: The True Account of the Disaster that Transformed Atlanta, described the incident as "Atlanta’s version of Sept. 11 in that the impact on the city in 1962 was comparable to New York of Sept. 11." This was the deadliest crash in Air France history until the recent crash of Air France Flight 447.
On the 22 of June in 1962, Air France flight 117, operated with a Boeing 707-328, crashed into a forest on a hill at an altitude of about 4,000 feet (1,200 m) during bad weather, as they were attempting to land at Point-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, West Indies, killing all 113 on board. The aircraft was attempting a non-precision NDB approach. A malfunctioning VOR station and poor NDB reception due to thunderstorms were blamed for the accident. Notably, the airframe had accumulated only 985 hours of flying at the time of the accident.
On the 6th of March in 1968, a Boeing 707-328C operating the Caracas-Point-à-Pitre sector of Air France flight 212 hit the southern slope of La Soufrière Mountain at an altitude of 3,937 feet, 27.5 km SSW of Le Raizet Airport with the loss of all 63 lives on board. When ATC cleared the flight deck crew for a visual approach to Le Raizet's runway 11, the crew reported the airfield was in sight. Flight 212 started to descend from FL90 and passed Saint Claude at an altitude of about 4,400 feet (1,300 m). Later accident investigators cited the probable cause as a visual approach procedure at night in whereby the descent begun from an incorrectly identified point. Charlie Juliet flew for just 33 hours since coming off the Boeing production line and was on her second revenue service (note that her maiden passenger flight was the previous day's outbound journey from Paris).
On the 11th of September in 1968, a Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle III operating the Ajaccio, Corsica - Nice sector as flight AF1611 crashed into the sea near Cap d'Antibes off Nice with the loss of all 95 lives on board. The accident occurred while the flight deck crew attempted an emergency landing at Côte d'Azur Airport, following the detection of a fire in the aircraft's rear cabin 21 minutes after take-off from Ajaccio. Later accident investigators came to the conclusion that the fire started in the right lavatory and galley area.
On the 4th of December in 1969, a Boeing 707-328B operating the Caracas-Point-à-Pitre (again) sector of Air France flight 212 crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Simon Bolivar International Airport with the loss of all 62 on board.
On the 12th of June in 1975, a Boeing 747-128 operating the sector between Bombay (now called Mumbai), India, and Tel Aviv, Israel, of flight AF193 to Paris-CDG Airport was destroyed by fire on the ground at Bombay's Santa Cruz Airport, following an aborted take-off. The aircraft's tyre on its right-hand main undercarriage failed as the flight deck crew were executing a 180 degree turn at the beginning of Santa Cruz Airport's runway 27. When the flight deck crew began its take-off run, another tyre failed. At that point the plane's wheels and braking assembly came into contact with the runway, starting a fire. The crew aborted take-off. The ensuing delay in shutting down the engines, as well as the improper deployment of the airport's fire service, caused the fire to spread, leading to the plane's complete destruction. There were however no fatalities among the 394 occupants (18 crew and 376 passengers).
Operation Entebbe: On the 27th of June in 1976, an Airbus A300 operating flight AF139 from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked shortly after departing Athens. After refuelling in Benghazi, Libya, the hijackers demanded it be flown to Entebbe, Uganda. One hostage was freed in Benghazi and in Uganda another 155 non-Israeli and/or non-Jewish hostages were released. The flight crew remained with the hostages after Captain Bacos insisted he was responsible for them. After several days of negotiating and diplomatic interventions, Israel launched a commando raid into Entebbe to free them. During the assault all six of the hijackers were killed as were 3 hostages. The leader of the assault was also killed. One hostage was unaccounted for.
On the 18th of January in 1984, an explosion in the cargo hold of a Boeing 747 en route from Karachi, Pakistan, to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, shortly after departing Karachi blew a hole in the right rear cargo hold. The resulting loss of cabin pressure necessitated an immediate descent to 5,000 feet (1,500 m). The aircraft returned to Karachi without any fatalities among the 261 people on board (15 crew and 246 passengers).
On the 26th of June 1988, Air France flight 296, Airbus A320-111 crashed near the airfield of Mulhouse Habsheim, in the Franco-German border region of Alsace. The accident occurred during an air-show as the flight deck crew were performing a flypast at low height and speed. The aircraft overflew the airfield in good weather. Seconds later the aircraft struck treetops behind the runway and crashed into a forest, as a result of flying too low and too slow. Three passengers died and about 50 were injured.
On the 24th of December in 1994, Air France flight 8969, an Airbus A300B2-1C was hijacked in Houari Boumedienne Airport in Algiers, Algeria, by 4 terrorists that belonged to the Armed Islamic Group. It was reported that the terrorists intended to crash the plane over the Eiffel Tower on Boxing Day! After a failed attempt to leave Marseille following a confrontational fire-fight between the terrorists and the GIGN French Special Forces, the result was the death of all 4 terrorists. (Snipers on the terminal front's roof shot dead two of the terrorists). 3 hostages including a Vietnamese diplomat were executed, 229 hostages survived, many of them were wounded by shrapnel. The almost 15-year-old aircraft was subsequently written off.
On the 5th of September in 1996, turbulence caused injuries to 3 unsuspecting passengers on a Boeing 747 in mid-air near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. One died later on from the injuries received from an in-flight film projection screen.
On the 20th of April in 1998, the Air France flight from Bogotá's El Dorado Airport, Colombia, to Quito, Ecuador, using an aircraft leased from TAME and flown by Ecuadorian crew, crashed into a mountain near Bogotá. All 43 passengers and 10 crew died.
On the 5th of March in 1999, an ex-UTA Boeing 747-2B3F (SCD) freighter carrying a revenue load of 66 tons of cargo on flight AF6745 from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Madras Meenambakkam, India, via Karachi, Pakistan and Bangalore HAL Airport, India, crash-landed, caught fire and completely burned out. Meenambakkam ATC had cleared the aircraft for an ILS approach to the airport's runway 07. The crew abandoned the approach due to technical difficulties. The aircraft circled to attempt a second approach. At the end of the second approach, the aircraft's nose struck the runway as it touched down because its nose gear was either not down or not locked. The plane skidded and came to rest 7,000 feet (2,100 m) down the 13,050 ft. runway. After it came to a standstill, the crew noticed smoke on the flight deck and began to extinguish the flames. Soon after, flames erupted in the aircraft's front section. One crew member managed to escape from the flight deck via a rope ladder. The remaining 4 crew members were rescued by the airport’s fire service from the rear, before the flames engulfed the entire aircraft. The fire service was unable to extinguish the fire and the aircraft burned out.
We all remember this one; on the 25th of July 2000, Air France Flight 4590, a supersonic Concorde charter departing from De Gaulle airport in Paris bound for New York's JFK Airport crashed in to a hotel just after take off in Gonesse, France. All 109 people on board died, along with 4 people on the ground. According to the accident investigation report, the probable cause was the destruction of one of the aircraft's main wheel tires, as a result of passing at high speed over a part lost by a pre-departing DC-10 during the take-off run. The piercing of one of the fuel tanks by a piece of the exploding tire ignited the leaking jet fuel and caused a loss of thrust in engine number 1 and 2 in quick succession. That marked the beginning of the end of Concorde as we knew it!
On the 2nd of August in 2005, Air France Flight 358, an Airbus A340-300 overshot the runway at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport during a thunderstorm. The plane continued for 300 metres before coming to rest at the bottom of a ravine at the end of the runway adjacent to Highway 401. All 297 passengers and 12 crew survived but the plane was completely destroyed by fire. The investigation predominately blamed pilot error in the face of severe weather conditions. We understand that class action lawsuits over the incident are still ongoing.
That brings us to the latest incident in Air France’s history, whereby on the 1st of June 2009, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-203 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people onboard lost contact with air traffic control while over the Atlantic Ocean, 300km (186 miles) north-east of the Brazilian city of Natal.
Naturally one needs to balance the accident rate with the volume of traffic involved, when considering risk. Either way it does not provide much comfort for Fly Blue passengers to see such a long line of incidents and accidents. It is important however for you to come to your own conclusions and make your own judgments when considering your chosen airline and route.
Have a safe flight!