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Flybe plane plummets 500ft in 18 seconds after autopilot was set to ZERO ft

Mirror logo Mirror 08/11/2018 Neil Lancefield
a large air plane flying in the sky: The Flybe plane plummeted 500 feet in just 18 seconds, it has emerged (file picture) © Publicity Picture The Flybe plane plummeted 500 feet in just 18 seconds, it has emerged (file picture)

An autopilot error sent a Flybe plane plummeting 500ft in just 18 seconds with more than 40 passengers onboard, it has emerged.

The terrifying ordeal happened shortly after the flight took off from Belfast City Airport in January, a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) revealed.

An incorrect setting has been blamed for the plane aiming for the ground.

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Cockpit alarms alerted the captain and first officer to what was happening. They later reported they had "become visual with the ground".

A report stated that autopilot was engaged when the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane reached an altitude of 1,350 feet on January 11.

a store front at day © Credits: PA

The aircraft continued to climb to 1,500ft but it "pitched nose-down and then descended rapidly" because autopilot was mistakenly set with a target altitude of zero feet.

The captain disconnected autopilot and recovered the aircraft, having dropped to 928ft.

The maximum rate of descent of 4,300 feet per minute during the event suggests the aircraft may have hit the ground just a few seconds later if the crew had not intervened.

Related: These are the 20 safest airlines in the world (Business Insider)

They continued the flight to Glasgow and landed without incident.

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky © Credits: Publicity Picture

The AAIB concluded that the crew's selection of a particular autopilot mode before take off led to the zero altitude target.

Autopilot systems are used to automatically control aircraft.

The flight's operator had taken several safety measures in response to the incident, including revisions to simulator training and amendments to pilots' pre-take off checklists.

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