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

Bombardier Dash Q400 aircraft. A Flybe flight plummeted 500ft in 18 seconds after an incorrect autopilot setting caused it to aim for the ground an investigation has

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.

The aircraft continued to climb to 1,500ft but it "pitched nose-down and then descended rapidly" when autopilot was set to zero by mistake.

The terrified crew of a Flybe plane which "pitched nose down" as it headed to earth "saw the ground" as they plummeted downwards for eighteen seconds, it has emerged.

The flight started as usual as some 44 passengers and four crew members on board of the Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 turboprop plane were heading from Belfast City to Glasgow on January 11.

A report published yesterday said that the autopilot was engaged after the aircraft took off on a flight from Belfast to Glasgow.

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.

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According to the AAIB's findings, the crew's decision to select a particular type of autopilot mode, prior to take-off, led to the zero-altitude target error. No one was injured during the flight.

The AAIB has eventually found out that the crew somehow managed to set the autopilot to "altitude zero" and this mistake has nearly led to a catastrophe.

Airline Flybe after the incident has revised the training on the simulators and added to the checklist.

A statement from Flybe said the operator "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".

The carrier, which operates over 158,000 flights a year, said "the safety of our passengers and crew remains our number one priority".

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