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Inquiry after New York-Paris flight ‘loses control’ on landing descent

The Air France flight's pilot was heard saying ‘Stop! Stop!’. The plane landed safely on a second attempt 20 minutes later

An Air France Boeing 777 with its landing gear showing

The Air France plane was just about the land when pilots reported a loss of control that caused the aircraft to do “basically whatever”, forcing them to attempt a second landing Pic: Lukas Wunderlich / Shutterstock

An inquiry has opened after the pilots of an Air France plane allegedly lost control during an approach to  landing at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris.

The incident happened on a Boeing 777 Air France flight from New York-JFK to Paris Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, one of five daily such flights, yesterday April 5.

The flight AF011 was on its final approach to runway 26L when the pilots noticed that the plane was no longer responding to controls, and was deviating to the left. At this point, the plane was around 370 metres up.

In order to avoid a serious incident, the pilots were forced to accelerate hard and rise up again and circulate above the airport. A second landing attempt was made 20 minutes later and took place without a problem.

Visibility was limited by poor weather conditions requiring a landing by use of alignment instruments.

In a recording from the cockpit at the time of the incident, an alarm sounds and one of the pilots can be heard saying “Stop! Stop!”. The air traffic controller then asks calmly for details, and the pilot, clearly stressed, responds: “I’ll call you back”.

The air traffic controller saw that the plane was drifting to the left, and ordered another plane to delay its take-off so as not to become involved.

The pilot of the Air France jet then said: “We have accelerated, 4,000 feet, we will maintain it, we will call you back.” He then later added: “A problem with flight command, the plane just did basically whatever, so...”

Today (Wednesday, April 6), aviation safety agency le BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation civile) confirmed that it had opened a “safety inquiry” into what it called a “serious incident”. It said that data from the flight was being analysed.

In a statement, Air France said that the flight crew had "aborted their landing sequence and performed a go-around due to a technical incident during the approach. The crew controlled the situation and landed normally after a second approach”.

The statement added that acceleration and performing a “go around” is a relatively “normal procedure” during landing. 

It added that “crews are trained and regularly made aware of these procedures, which are used by all airlines to guarantee the safety of flights and passengers, which is an absolute necessity for Air France”.

A passenger on the plane, 75-year-old Michèle, told Le Parisien that there had been no panic on the plane, but that there had been little communication about the situation.

The frequent flyer said: “There was a lot of fog, we only saw the runway at the last moment. We were almost on the ground when the plane went back up. I just thought the pilot must have messed up his landing.”

Yet, she said that the crew took a while to update passengers on the situation, even as the plane began to circulate before attempting another landing.

She said: “They then told us that a plane on the runway had stopped us from landing. After we arrived we didn’t hear anything more.”

The BEA investigation continues.

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