Report: Co-pilot moved seat, sent jetliner plummeting
November 30th, 2010
03:31 PM ET

Report: Co-pilot moved seat, sent jetliner plummeting

The co-pilot of an Air India Express 737 sent the jetliner into a terrifying 7,000-foot plunge in May when he accidentally hit the control column while adjusting his seat, investigators report.

According to the report from India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the co-pilot panicked and was unable to execute the proper procedures as the jetliner dropped from 37,000 feet at a 26-degree angle. The plane and its 113 passengers were saved when the pilot, who’d gone on a bathroom break, used an emergency code to get into the locked cockpit, jumped back into his seat and grabbed the controls to bring the plummeting plane out of its dive.

The aircraft would have broken apart if the descent had continued, the aviation agency report said. The aircraft was not damaged and no one was injured, the report said.

After the pilot, 39, regained control of the plane, he told passengers, who were in the middle of a meal when the jet plunged, that the plane had “went through an air pocket and that is why there was a rapid descent,” according to the report.

The aviation agency report concluded that the 25-year-old co-pilot had not been trained in the specific scenario the jet encountered and “probably had no clue to tackle this kind of emergency.”

Neither the pilot nor co-pilot were named in the report.

The Air India Express flight was en route from Dubai to Pune, India, on May 25 when the incident occurred.

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Filed under: Air travel • India • Plane emergency landing • Travel
soundoff (962 Responses)
  1. Ryder

    What, a co-pilot too stupid to pull back on the yoke? I find this just too hard to believe. Of course the pilot thinks it's a bad thing to hit a pocket of air... So I wonder what he thinks keeps the plane up when they're not in a pocket of air....

    Hmmm I may avoid India airlines.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      I am a co-pilot in America. We receive yearly training in how to deal with just this type of situation. So if you are traveling on an American airlines don't worry you will never be in danger like this. The co-pilot and the pilot are equally and thoroughly trained in flying the plane in all situations. The only difference is the pilot has been flying longer.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I am sure that you know everything there is to know about these planes. Something tells me there would be more to it than just that

      December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • RH of WI

      May? Nothing like being 7 months late.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • GeorgeBos95

      It's unbelievable that a co-pilot wouldn't be able to recover from such a situation – so unbelievable, that the story seems incomplete or flat out wrong.

      As for all you Flightsim jockeys – "flying" on Flightsim is NOTHING like being in a real plane. I'd be glad to take any of you up and see how you handle a real emergency – I suspect you'd be disoriented and on information overload.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      Every pilot learns how to pull out of a dive. This is so basic that the co-pilot's story is not at all credible. That is NOT what happened. If you check, I would be very surprised if that co-pilot was not Muslim. There has been another incident prior to 9-11 when an airliner was flown into the ocean this way. The copilot was chanting, "Allah Akbar".

      The level of incompetence suggested here is so extreme that it is flatly impossible.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      the pilot was covering for the co-pilot. After all, if he left the plane to this bozo while he went to the bathroom, he has to be responsible anyway. It's not looking good for either one, especially the co-pilot.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      Yeah, George – it must be a coverup. It has to be, because the explanation offered is too astoundingly implausible. That airline has to make some sort of report. I suspect that Indian Intelligence knows the whole story and things are getting taken care of.

      What probably happened is the pilot went out to use the head. While he was in there, he felt the plane go weightless. It kept up, and the pilot charged out of the head, punched the code and took over the plane. The co-pilot might have offered that lame excuse, but I don't think the pilot believed it for a second.

      How am I sure? Because those aircraft fly themselves. In order for that to happen, the co-pilot had to disengage the autopilot. Then, he had to push on the yoke and keep it there. If he let go, it would drift back and automated systems would take over to level the plane. So that DID NOT HAPPEN.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      If the co-pilot did not crap his pants he deserves a medal.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spock

      Several years ago in China, a MD-80 crashed. The last minute of the CVR overheard the copilot "What does PULL UP mean?" WHen the Ground Proximity computer sent out the audio voice.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bert Klempel

      Thank God for dual controls Piper cubs even have them.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Velvet Jones

      I'm sure flying a simulator is nothing compared to a real plane, but even in a flight simulator you can get that sense of overload and panic. I've crashed several times trying to land in bad weather or in other adverse conditions, simply because of overload. Things happen so quick that one little mistake gets you killed. I can't image then fear that can go through a real pilot, especially when you realize you have yours and 100+ other peoples lives in your hand. Plus, a 737 and other large planes handle like boats. Getting out of a dive is not always a simple task. As the article states, the likely end result would have been the plane would have ripped itself apart before ever hitting the ground.

      December 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • never

      I will never fly in a plane with an Indian pilot.

      December 2, 2010 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tushar

    Never ever heard this story ! Seems it did not bother passanger enough to report to media earlier !

    December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      To John T : you may be right. I remember that flight. It was an Egyptian pilot but it was never clear to the media what went on in that plane except that the guy was suicidal.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      I doer not NO why day dit daht 😛

      December 2, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      If this was a plane full of Americans, there would be numerous lawsuits files so the lazy Americans would get free money and not have to work for a living.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve in MD

      Give me a break. When you are at eg 37000 feet in a jet, the indicated safe airpseed range is only about a range of eg 20kts., eg from 300kts indicated to 320. Get below that speed and a wing stall occurs, requiring immediate recovery actions. Get above it and something similar happens (called Mach Buffet.) there are automatic ccontrols to warn, shake the control column and even force the controls collumn in the correct direction.

      If the story is true, something is terribly wrong with Air Indias training system. Presumably they are part of the ICAO and comply with training standards establised by it, and the plane mfr etc.

      And he should have known not to do what he did. Is this third world avaiation ? an accident looking for a place to happen?

      December 5, 2010 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
    • IT Flyer

      I work in the IT industry with tons of Indian folks who claim to be skilled yet have no idea what is going on. I do believe that there are at least as many who ACTUALLY do know what they are doing... But I still run into too many "paper pros". The lure of the big bucks in America draws them.

      Typical of this was a guy I "worked" with who spent days-on-end taking/failing/reviewing/retaking online certifications for a computer language. When he finally had memorized enough of the coursework to barely pass the test, he opened his resume and added his "training" as a expert programmer in that language. This I find is typical of a lot of Indian training. Yes, yes, I know you are calling me a bigot, but this is typical of a lot of know knothings I work with.

      December 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • REB101


      December 20, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • jeff williams

      Idiot pilot. He pushed on the control column to push his (her?) seat back and the autopilot disconnected. How someone could be checked out as a pilot and then keep passing recurrent training is beyond me.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jimbrewski

    Yes, airlines are very safe. I myself am a proud member of Delta's Frequent Survivor's and Underwear Replacement Program. Sign-up is free but the paperwork can get kind of s#!tty...

    December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonnyboy

      Very funny. Thanks for the laugh.

      December 2, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. edmond

    What can anyone expect, these people were riding elephants and camels a few years ago. How can we really expect evolution to move forward in 1 or 2 generations?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • EYM

      Shame on you.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • mian

      @ edmond hahahaha this is so funny u made my day dude i am laughing hard thx

      December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • eric

      I think edmond is actually joe biden

      December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • STA

      was that comment really needed?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    There is no way on Earth that co-pilot did not know how to recover from a steep dive. No advanced training is required. It is not quite as simple as people here think it might be because as the seed the plane was likey going you just can'tr quickly pull up, but you ease it out of the drive and as you do the speed goes down and then you can pull up a bit more and so on. But it is not hard and something everyone learns very early in training. In any case that co-pilot needs to be fired

    December 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Levi

      It can be more complex than you might think, if you have you deactivate various layers of autopilot to get back in control of the plane. Still the copilot should have been trained in this.

      December 2, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • ExLibris

      If autopilot was involved, this wouldn't have happened in the first place. In my opinion, the best-case scenario is it appears the co-pilot panicked and was mentally unable to deal with the situation.

      I find it incredible they are claiming as a co-pilot he wasn't trained to recover from that situation.

      December 2, 2010 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Pull back, the houses get smaller. Push forward, the houses get bigger. It's frightening that the guy at least instinctually didn't get this.

      December 2, 2010 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Nsane

      I have to agree with Chris, that guy needs to be fired...instead of flying planes he should sit at home and check out Nsane Photography located at lot safer for all of us and I'm sure he will enjoy it...

      December 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eddie

      I 100% Agree....

      December 5, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • LOL@PeopleThinkTheyKnowAviation

      Anyone with aviation knowledge knows that the autopilot is disengaged whenever a certain amount of pressure is applied to the yoke.

      January 1, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. Abbie

    The gutless wimp just panicked and lost all control of his senses to get the situation corrected. Not enough training provided by Air India, for the pilot to be airborne with passengers lives in their hands. He really should be dismissed from flying. The risk of hiring pilots like this is too high. Guess Air India needs to upgrade their ground simulators.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • theCarpathian

      Air India must have outsourced its pilot training to Pakistan. I guess they did it because "Phils Phlight School" wasn't comprehensive enough - only had four Piper Cubs for training.

      December 2, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • steve in MD

      yes – what if the pilot became incapacitated. Despite 6 month medical tests required, and I beleive including an EKG for pilots over some age limint, a 60 yr old Continental PIlot on a flight from Germany to the USA took a nap (permitted under certain conditions), and he never woke up. the first officer landed the plane up in NewFoundland, and also was assisted by a qualified pilot riding as a passenger.

      Change the scenario, and well...........................

      December 5, 2010 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • steve in MD

      Much training these days is given in simulators, which in certain situations = eg a pilot upgrading to another type airplane, all his training is on the simulator, though I would expect that his first couple flights would be with another experienced captain regard less of the new to the planes pilots rank.

      The simulators are just that good. You cand eg in a 747 simulator feel the bumps from the cracks in the runway while taxiing.

      And certainly they take you through all the emergency scenes and how to recover. Flubb the training / testing too may times and you can go fly s piper cub.

      December 5, 2010 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
  7. James

    How could anyone licensed to fly an airplane possibly not know how to recover from a dive? If he couldn't handle that situation I'd hate to see what happens if there's a serious mechanical problem.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      this guy should not be a licensed pilot. I think the airline will fire him.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      I sometimes dive and am not sure how to recover.

      December 2, 2010 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • theCarpathian

      The young "piliot" was going to use standard procedure: scream to god for mercy and help. He just couldn't figure out which one of the hundreds of gods to scream to. He was obviously going through the list when the pilot came back and did it on his own.

      December 2, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      If the co pilot had prayed to Jesus,Jesus would have said 'I couldn't save myself how can I save you'

      December 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. OCM

    This happened in May... too late now. Passengers are already taking another plain for Christmas...

    December 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. eric

    I think edmond is actually joe biden....

    December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zach

    Isn't it ironic this article was published on the day Leslie Nielsen passed away?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Francisco d'Anconia

      He died? Surely you can't be serious!

      December 2, 2010 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Yes, he is, and don't call him Shirley...

      December 2, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Shirley you jest!

      December 5, 2010 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Habib

    I think what is more intriguing is something everyone else missed

    "The aircraft would have broken apart if the descent had continued, the aviation agency report said."

    Hmm...Seems to me, we should not be so hard on the pilot...I am extremely concerned with the Indian Aviation Agency. Maybe all those database designs should go back to India and help these folks out...had i continued i am sure it would have broken apart very very rapidly. Then this would not be in the news because it's from India

    December 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      "database designs"... lol, say what?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Habib, are you a Pakistani. I would't fly a Pakistani Jet unless someone puts a gun on my head. I have flown multiple times in India. Even their domestic flights are way way better in service than any American or European service. That said, this co-pilot should be fired.

      December 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Speedbird109

    This incident happened close on the heels of the Mangalore crash. Same airline same acft variant 737-800. The scenario was so tense at the time that they were worried an empty parked plane can also crash! and that would become headlines.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dude

    Indian pilots are trained by Dell tech support department. That explains the incident.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • guy

      Hahah, that's funny.. I literally laughed at the "Oh sorry folks, we just flew into an air pocket" excuse.. The jet is SUPPOSED to fly in the air, what exactly is an "air pocket" anyways?? At least in my opinion, American airlines are the way to go.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • D Schwarz

      Upon further investigation, it was found that the co-pilot called the Dell Technical Support Department and was put on hold after making several menu selections. His English was not good and there was not a menu selection for Arabic. When asked later by a reporter about the quality of the help received, he nodded his head and smiled.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • vr

      "May I put you on hold for a minute to check with my supervisor? I really apologize sir and I understand how you feel." But I have no clue how to fix the problem.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dan

    This is abot as much pure BS as ive ever read.....................who ever wrote this article should be hanged............its for sure they dont know anything about flying an airplane

    December 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • theCarpathian

      neither did the co-pilot.

      December 2, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. Riz

    India need to outsource pilots

    December 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
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