Pilot Freak-Out Sent International Jet into Nose Dive, Panel Finds
The incident began at about 37,000 feet when the 26-year-old pilot accidently bumped the plane's control column forward while adjusting his seat, according to a report by India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). And then he panicked.
As he struggled with the controls, the co-pilot was so shaken he was unable to unlock the cockpit door for the captain, who had left the plane on autopilot while he took a bathroom break.
The co-pilot told the air safety panel he "got in a panic situation, couldn't control the aircraft or ... open the cockpit door and answer the cabin call."
The 39-year-old captain was only able to save the Boeing 737 when he used an emergency code to get back into the cockpit and struggled with the co-pilot.
"There was application of opposite force by pilot and co-pilot on control column," the report says, adding that the co-pilot "probably had no clue to tackle this kind of emergency."
Meanwhile, the plane plunged more than 6,500 feet in two minutes as 113 terrified passengers were ordered by cabin crew to put on their seatbelts.
There was "complete commotion" in the cabin and passengers were "very much scared and were shouting loudly" as the plane nosedived, according to investigators.
After he regained control, the captain attempted to calm passengers, telling them the plane had hit an air pocket.
The plane was flying from Dubai to Pune airport in western India at the time of the May 26 incident. No one was injured.
The panel concludes that "appropriate action shall be taken against the involved crew."
Only four days before the nosedive incident, another Air India Express flight crashed at Mangalore in southern India, killing all 158 onboard, an accident that has been blamed on a sleepy pilot.
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Photo, Rick Schlamp, flickr