Terrified passengers plunged 500 feet in just 18 seconds over Belfast

Terrified passengers plunged 500 feet in just 18 seconds when Flybe plane’s autopilot was accidentally set to aim for the ground

  • Flight crew said they saw the ground as the plane plummeted for 18 seconds
  • The Flybe aircraft took off from Belfast City Airport with 44 passengers on board 
  • Plane descended because the autopilot was accidentally set to ‘altitude zero’

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.

Details of the frightening incident in Belfast have now been revealed after the plane plunged 500ft with 44 passengers and four crew onboard. 

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has heard how the autopilot was accidentally set to ‘altitude zero’ during the flight in January.

The Flybe flight was in the air with 44 passengers on board when the autopilot was accidentally switched 

The flight plummeted 500ft in 18 seconds after an incorrect autopilot setting caused it to aim for the ground, an investigation has found

Flight crew say they ‘became visual with the ground’ as the plane dropped in the air.

The plane had taken off from Belfast City Airport and climbed to 1,350ft before the accident happened.


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The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop plane continued to climb to 1,500ft but then ‘pitched nose-down and descended rapidly’ because autopilot was mistakenly set with a target altitude of zero feet.

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 before recovering and lifting the flight

The pilot rapidly switched off autopilot as cockpit alarms sounded and corrected the descent as the plane hit 928ft.

They continued the flight to Glasgow and landed without incident.

The AAIB said selection of a particular autopilot mode before take off led to the zero altitude target.

Flybe said it has taken a number safety measures in response to the incident, including revisions to simulator training and amendments to pilots’ pre-take off checklists.

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