Plane inquest: family’s ordeal

Arthur Coakley
Arthur Coakley

The widow of Arthur Coakley, who died four years ago when his plane crashed on its way to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, will finally be able to put up a gravestone in his memory.

Patricia Coakley told the Whitby Gazette that following the inquest into her husband’s death this week, she could now bring herself to get him a headstone.

Mr Coakley, 61, of Sandsend, died in the early hours of June 1 2009, when Air France flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

All 228 passengers and crew were killed, including five Britons.

An investigation found equipment malfunctioned and the pilots were unable to respond effectively.

Mrs Coakley said: “I have put off getting a headstone as it would be like admitting that he would never be coming back alive.

“I knew that he wasn’t but it was like I did not want to admit that he was gone. But now that the inquest has taken place I think I will now finally get one for him.”

Father-of-three Mr Oakley was one of only 50 people who were recovered from the wreckage and he was laid to rest by his family at Lythe’s St Oswald’s Church in July 2009.

“At least we got to have a funeral,” she added. “Not all of the families had that chance.”

On Tuesday coroner Michael Oakley, sitting at Northallerton County Hall, delivered a narrative verdict, saying there had been systematic failures and a blockage of the aircraft’s pitot tubes, used to measure fluid pressures.

He also voiced concern at the possibility pilots might be too reliant on technology after it was revealed the pilots were inadequately trained.

“The evidence in the official accident report highlights systematic failures and a lack of comprehension of the aircraft’s situation between the pilots during the flight,” he said.

“The pilots were not adequately trained to handle the aircraft safely in the particular high altitude emergency situation that night.

“The air disaster highlights serious public concern of whether pilots are overly dependent on technology and are not retaining the skills required to properly fly complex commercial aircraft.”

Mrs Coakley, who had seen the accident reports previously, said she was not surprised at anything she heard during the inquest.

“Nothing could surprise me about Air France’s training method,” she said.

“You wouldn’t drive a car in automatic before you could do it manually would you? But on a plane that seems different.”

She added that she was still yet to receive an apology from the airline more than four years since the disaster.

“We are fighting for an apology, everyone deserves an apology but they are refusing to give it,” said Mrs Coakley.

“I spoke to Air France’s lawyer and he ignored it. That’s all we want, an apology. It’s four years and four months to the day exactly since it happened.

“The first of the month is really difficult and we always relive the exact time my son phoned and asked which plane he was on.”