Air France Faces Manslaughter Charges For 2009 Crash

03/18/2011 07:53 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

PARIS -- A French judge filed preliminary charges Friday against Air France over a 2009 crash that killed all 228 people aboard a jet that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the decision is "unfounded."

Judge Sylvie Zimmerman filed the preliminary charges Friday, a day after doing the same against Airbus, the maker of the doomed jet. Preliminary charges allow investigating judges to continue their probe before deciding whether to send the case to trial.

Air France Flight 447 dived into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, amid an intense, high-altitude thunderstorm while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The cause of the crash remains unclear, and may never be determined without the "black box" flight recorders, somewhere in the ocean depths. A fourth search operation aimed at looking for them starts next week.

Automatic messages sent by the Airbus 330 jet's computers show it was receiving false air speed readings from sensors known as pitot tubes. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems, and not just sensor error.

"We are protesting this," Gourgeon told reporters at the courthouse. "It seems to us that it is unfounded."

Air France and Airbus will finance the estimated $12.5 million cost of the new search effort, in which three advanced underwater robots will scour the mountainous ocean floor between Brazil and western Africa, in depths of up to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).