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New Air France mishap revives crash debate-paper

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 6 Sep 2011 14:43 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* July flight went through similar problems to doomed jet

* Will help investigators work out cause of crash

* Rio-Paris Airbus crash killed 228 people in 2009

PARIS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - An Air France flight in July suffered similar technical problems to a jet that crashed into the Atlantic two years ago, French media reported on Tuesday, reigniting a debate over the disaster's causes.

Air investigators told France's Le Figaro newspaper the details of the latest incident involving one of the company's Airbus jets might make them think again about what made flight AF447 crash off the coast of Brazil in 2009.

Investigators have so far stopped short of explicitly blaming the pilots for the 2009 disaster, which killed 228 people -- but their reports have highlighted mistakes they said were made on the flight deck.

Pilots' unions and Air France insist the faulty flight equipment was mostly to blame. Both Airbus and Air France are facing criminal probes in France and lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic.

In its online edition on Tuesday, Le Figaro said it had obtained a report on an incident on an Air France flight from Paris to Caracas in July.

"This incident certainly takes on a particular importance in the light of the Rio-Paris accident," a source close to the investigation was quoted as saying.

"It will help us to understand whether there was a problem with the Airbus or in the training received by flight crew in manual aircraft handling at high altitude," the source said.

Two crew were injured in the July incident which occurred on an Airbus A340, but there were no victims, Le Figaro said.

The BEA confirmed it had opened an investigation, but refused to say whether the flight experienced problems similar to the 2009 crash of the Airbus A330.

Le Figaro said the report showed that like AF447, the A340 hit severe turbulence while cruising at 35,000 feet, and accelerated rapidly, causing the autopilot to switch itself off.

The jet then climbed sharply and began to lose speed, as with AF447, but managed to remain in flight thanks to a reduction in the turbulence and the rapid response by the crew, the newspaper said.

Air France was not immediately available to comment.

An airline security source close to Airbus told Le Figaro the July incident was clearly complex, and would revive speculation over the aircraft-maker's role in the 2009 crash.

The BEA air accident authority has said the pilots lacked training to handle the freezing of speed sensors and failed to discuss stall alarms as the Airbus jet plummeted 38,000 feet.

Air France disputes this and says instruments went haywire. (Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Vicky Buffery; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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