Flybe flight plummeted 500ft in seconds after 'autopilot error'

Irving Hamilton
November 10, 2018

The plane was just 928ft off the ground when the captain regained control shortly after taking off from Belfast City Airport.

The mistake with the autopilot was not caught during preflight checks.

An aircraft with 44 passengers and four crew plunged 500ft in 18 seconds after the autopilot system was mistakenly aimed at the ground, accident investigators claimed.

The flight continued as planned to Glasgow and landed without further incident.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) stated that the autopilot was engaged when the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane reached an altitude of 1,350 feet.

The crew had already seen the ground when the commander disconnected the autopilot and recovered the aircraft into the climb from a height of less than 300 meters, avoiding an nearly certain disaster. Its descent reached a maximum speed of 4,300 feet per minute.

A last-minute change in the plane's payload left the crew with less time to carry out preflight checks and they missed the problem with the autopilot setting, the report said.

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The report concluded the crew's autopilot mode selection led to a zero altitude target.

The AAIB report indicates the near-miss, which saw the plan plummet at around 71ft a second, was a result of an error that saw the autopilot set to zero feet.

Following the incident Flybe has intervened, revising pilot simulator training and the amendments for pre-pilot takeoff checklists.

A statement from Flybe said the operator "maintains a rigorous approach to ensuring the very highest flying standards are maintained".

Flybe, an independent regional airline based in England, said it "implemented remedial actions quickly in response to the incident" and changed procdures and training to lessen the risk of a similar incident.

'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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