Families of air crash victims at Rio service

 

THE FAMILIES of two young Irish doctors who died when an Air France aircraft crashed off Brazil’s northeast coast in June were among hundreds of bereaved relatives who attended a memorial service in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.

Some 228 passengers and crew, including three Irish women, lost their lives when flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic some 1,000 kilometres off the Brazilian coast while en route to Paris from Rio on June 1st.

Diplomatic sources said representatives of the families of Dr Aisling Butler (26) of Roscrea, Co Tipperary and Dr Eithne Walls (28) from Ballygowan, Co Down, attended the memorial service, while the Government was represented by Ireland’s ambassador to Brazil, Michael Hoey.

The body of just one of the Irish victims, Dr Jane Deasy (27) from Rathgar in Dublin, was recovered during the search operation. The three friends were returning from a holiday in Brazil when the aircraft went missing.

At the ceremony, which took place in a beach-side suburb of Rio, a glass memorial engraved with 228 swallows – symbolising the number of victims – soaring over the ocean was unveiled.

The event was attended by hundreds of family members, along with French minister for overseas co-operation Alain Joyandet and Air France president Jean-Cyril Spinetta.

Five months after the worst disaster in Air France’s 75-year history, the circumstances of the crash remain unclear. Some aircraft wreckage and 51 bodies were recovered, but an intensive search failed to locate the black boxes containing data that might shed light on the cause.

Speculation has focused on the aircraft’s speed sensors after error messages suggested inconsistent data readings, but France’s air accident investigation authority, which is expected to publish an interim report on the incident in December, has said it is too early to tell if the so-called “Pitot probes” were to blame.

Mr Joyandet this weekend told RTL, a French radio station, that a new marine search would begin next February, when weather conditions would make it feasible.

So far search teams have been screening from the air an expanse of ocean the size of Switzerland in an attempt to find voice and data recorders and the bulk of the aircraft, which is thought to have fallen some 30,000 feet (9,000 metres) in a storm.

Bereaved family members in France and Brazil have sharply criticised the ongoing investigation, suggesting the process has lacked transparency, and claim that some families have not yet received compensation.

“We in the [French] government are also very impatient,” Mr Joyandet said when asked on Saturday about the criticisms of the investigation. “We want to know the truth so that we can draw conclusions from it and I understand that the families need to grieve, so I share these legitimate emotions.”

Relations between Air France pilots and management have also been tense since the fatal crash. In a memo sent to cockpit crew last month and leaked to financial newspaper La Tribune, the airline called for stricter observance of safety procedures and highlighted some recent incidents that it said took place because some pilots disregarded safety protocol.

Trade unions were incensed by the memo and said it could be interpreted as blaming pilots not only for several small safety lapses, but also for the flight 447 crash.

However, an offer by management last week to include staff representatives in the supervision of the airline’s audit into flight safety is being seen as an attempt to mend relations between the two sides.