Flybe plane plunges 500ft in 18 seconds after autopilot error

Terrified passengers plunge 500ft in 18 seconds when Flybe plane's autopilot was accidentally turned

After the aircraft climbed to a height of about 1,900 feet, the pilot re-engaged the autopilot, but disconnected it again when the plane started to pitch down.

A plane fell 500ft (152m) in 18 seconds after an incorrect autopilot setting caused it to aim for the ground, an investigation has found. Early autopilots were only able to maintain a constant heading and altitude, but modern autopilots are capable of controlling every part of the flight envelope from just after take-off to landing.

A report by the body said autopilot was engaged when the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane reached an altitude of 1,350ft.

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.

The flight with 44 passengers and four crew members left Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland on its way to Glasgow, Scotland, about 4:30 p.m. on January 11.

The descent was so steep that the crew "subsequently reported that they had become visual with the ground during the recovery", the report said.


That's according to a newly-published report from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), which details how the plane went "nose-down" before descending "rapidly". The aircraft landed on its nose injuring one passenger.

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.

Flybe, an independent airline based out of Exeter, England, said in a statement, "Flybe maintains a rigorous approach to ensuring the very highest flying standards are maintained".

'Flybe operates over 158,000 flights a year and the safety of our passengers and crew remains our number one priority'.

Flybe then said that it has taken several safety measures in response to the accident, including revision of the simulator training and amendments to the pilots' pre-takeoff checklists.

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