Flybe plane with 48 people on board 13 seconds from terrifying freefall crash

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A Flybe plane was just seconds from disaster with 48 people on board when an autopilot error caused it to plummet to the ground. The flight pitched so sharply that the cockpit crew were able to see earth when it went ‘nose-down and then descended rapidly’. The plane was just 928ft off the ground when the captain regained control shortly after taking off from Belfast City Airport.

It plummeted at speeds of up to 71ft a second after the autopilot was mistakenly set to zero feet, meaning the aeroplane was 13 seconds from disaster. A report from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau found that the plane reached a height of 1,500ft before it started falling on January 11. The AAIB stated that autopilot was engaged when the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane reached an altitude of 1,350 feet. The aircraft continued to climb to 1,500ft but then dropped to 928ft at which point the captain disconnected the autopilot. After recovering control, they continued the flight to Glasgow Airport and landed without incident.

 

The AAIB concluded that the crew’s selection of a particular autopilot mode before take off led to the zero altitude target. Autopilot systems are used to automatically control aircraft.

Flybe has taken several safety measures in response to the incident, including revisions to simulator training and amendments to pilots’ pre-take off checklists. A spokeswoman for the airline said: ‘Flybe maintains a rigorous approach to ensuring the very highest flying standards are maintained. ‘As reported by the AAIB, Flybe implemented remedial actions quickly in response to the incident and our training and procedures have been amended to minimise the risk of a reoccurrence. ‘Flybe operates over 158,000 flights a year and the safety of our passengers and crew remains our number one priority.’

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