On May 26, lives of 113 Air India Express passengers were put in danger when the co-pilot’s knee mistakenly hit the control gear of the Dubai-Pune flight making it dangerously nose dive for 7,000 feet at cruising speed.
This was what the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) report on Tuesday found.
The incident took place when the flight was in Mumbai airspace soon after the pilot headed to the washroom outside the cockpit.
Based on recordings from the cockpit voice recorder and confession of the crew, investigators were convinced that the co-pilot was not versed with the controls and not quipped to act during the emergency.
One of the most critical safety violations concluded by the report was that the co-pilot was not wearing straps mandatory for those occupying the seat because chair keeps moving back and forth. The co-pilot’s knee touched the control column causing the free fall.
Realising the problem, he pulled the control gear. With no difference in the movement he pushed it back which increased the speed of the plane, now falling at top cruise speed of 0.89 mach. He also failed to open the cockpit door as he was admittedly “panic stricken” by the incident. The commander used the emergency access code to enter the cockpit that took 30 critical seconds.
The report also said that the commander should have asked the co-pilot to wear the safety belt and stay away from control. At the same time as per the standard operating procedure, he should have asked a senior cabin crew personnel to occupy the cockpit during his absence, which he didn’t.
Also, after returning to the cockpit, he yanked the control gear which is another major safety lapse. “Yanking the gear could lead to structural collapse of all controls in the aircraft,” said a DGCA official, requesting anonymity. Luckily, the descent stopped and the aircraft climbed back to its previous altitude.
Though no passenger was hurt in the incident, the cabin crew personnel told investigators that there was panic and fear among them. Also, food packets and liquor bottles were all over the aisle because passengers were having their meal when the incident took place.
The probe has recommended “appropriate action” against the guilty crew, which means rigorous training for the crew.