A pilot landing a small commuter jet for low budget airline got an unwelcome surprise earlier this year when his arm fell off as he was bringing the plane into Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland. The bizarre incident took place February 12 but was just made public this week in a U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch report.
The flight carried 47 passengers on the low-cost airline Flybe on a flight that originated in Birmingham, England.
The 46-year-old pilot, described byFlybe as among is "most experienced and trusted" pilots, wears a prosthetic limb and said that he believed he had securely fixed the arm in place earlier, but with heavy winds, once he deactivated the Dash 8 aircraft's autopilot as he prepared to land the plane that's when the arm troubles began.
Asked why a pilot with only one arm was flying a plane in the first place, Flybe's safety director, Captain Ian Baston, said that the budget airline had a policy of equal opportunity employment and therefore "in common with most airlines, we do employ staff with reduced physical abilities."
Baston added that Flybe had, following the incident in which the pilot's arm fell off in flight, "determined a series of additional failsafe safety checks immediately to ensure that this type of incident could not happen again."
But the pilot himself emerged from the near-disaster as a hero, somehow guiding the aircraft in for a landing which, though it was described in the investigator's report as "heavy," resulted in no passenger injuries or damage to the plane.
However, when the false arm came loose and detached from a special clamp designed to hold the limb in place on the aircraft's controls, the one-armed pilot briefly lost control of the plane.
While, according to the report, the pilot initially considered turning responsibility for landing the plane over to his co-pilot, he rejected that option, reasoning that "the co-pilot would have had little time to assimilate the information necessary to take over in the challenging conditions."
The pilot then moved his right hand, his good one, off of the power levers and regained control of the aircraft. But there was still trouble ahead.
"With power still applied and possibly a gust affecting the aircraft, a normal touchdown was followed by a bounce, from which the aircraft landed heavily," the report said.
The pilot has promised to be more careful to make sure his arm stays on in the future.