Pilot's Personal Camera Nearly Causes Crash

UK transport plane thrown into violent dive.

A330 Seat and Armrest

A330 Seat and Armrest

Seat and armrest configuration from MAA report

Imagine scrambling across the ceiling of your Airbus A330's cockpit during a terrifying negative-G dive to reach your pilot seat and avert disaster in the nick of time.

That's just what happened after the captain of a UK military transport plane nearly caused a crash when his personal digital SLR camera became wedged between the airplane's sidestick and armrest.

According to a report by the UK Military Aviation Authority, the captain was using the Nikon camera to take dozens of pictures on the flight, which carried 198 passengers and crew to Afghanistan in February 2014.

The copilot had left the cockpit while the captain snapped the shots. He then set the camera down and moved his seat forward. This caused the camera to become wedged between the armrest and control stick. The captain moved his seat forward again, this time causing the camera to force the sidestick fully forward, initiating a sudden dive that disconnected the autopilot.

With the camera jamming the controls, the captain couldn't arrest the dive, which reached a maximum of nearly 16,000 feet per minute. It was only when the copilot dashed back into the cockpit and flung himself across the A330's cockpit and into his seat that control was finally regained.

The copilot pulled the power to idle as the speed was quickly building and pulled back on his stick, which sounded an alarm signifying a dual control input. The camera was dislodged from the flight control 33 seconds after the dive started. Two dozen passengers and several crew members were injured in the main cabin when they were thrown to the ceiling, investigators said.

In his original report, the captain alluded only to an autopilot anomaly. The UK MAA's March 23 report, however, makes clear that only the actions of the fast-thinking copilot and the A330's automated systems averted a catastrophe.

The current flight status of the captain was not disclosed.

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