AirAsia Flight Lands In Wrong Country: A String Of Pilot Errors Sent Flight In Wrong Direction With 212 Passengers, Concludes Investigation

An AirAsia flight flew in the wrong direction and landed in an entirely different country. The plane with 212 passengers continued on the erroneous flight path and the pilots didn’t realize the same till it was too late to take any remedial action.

An AirAsia flight that was supposed to fly from Sydney to Malaysia flew to Melbourne instead. The plane followed a wrong flight path owing to a string of pilot errors. The incident occurred last year on 10 March 2015. AirAisa flight 223 with 212 passengers on board was meant to fly to Kuala Lumpur. However, the plane ended up in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian aviation recently concluded its investigation and submitted its report that explained how a modern-day plane with multiple safety checks, pilots, and GPS navigation systems managed to go in the incorrect direction and land in a completely different country on a different continent. The investigation concluded the AirAsia flight turned the wrong way after taking off from Sydney because of a series of errors and bad judgment calls by the airline and crew.

The investigation revealed the pilot had manually keyed in wrong coordinates into the flight’s onboard navigation system. However, this was just one of the errors that was responsible for an 11,000 kilometer journey to a different country altogether. The report, compiled by Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) claims the pilot got the “longitudinal position” incorrect, which messed with the plane’s own navigation system.

Earlier when the plane was being readied for take-off, the pilots had inadvertently swapped duties because they were wearing each other’s headsets. While entering the coordinates, the pilot incorrectly entered the longitude as 01519.8 East (15 degrees 19.8 minutes East) instead of 15109.8 East (151 degrees 9.8 minutes East). Evidently, the pilot had read the information from a sign outside the cockpit window. The simple error of a single digit began a series of mishaps, stated the report.

“The ATSB found that when setting up the aircraft’s flight management and guidance system, the captain inadvertently entered the wrong longitudinal position of the aircraft. This resulted in a positional error in excess of 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles), which adversely affected the aircraft’s navigation systems and some alerting systems.”

Modern planes are equipped with safety-checks and preventive mechanisms to deal with such human errors. Unfortunately in this case, the pilots casually chose to ignore all the warnings and notifications, continued the report.

“The crew had a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error but didn’t notice the problem until after the plane became airborne and started tracking in the wrong direction. Several message alerts and sounds suggested the error before takeoff, but the crew ignored them.”

Surprisingly, one of the most dreaded warnings that no pilot ever wants to see or hear lit up in the cockpit. Alerts blaring “Terrain,” indicating an imminent collision with the earth flashed on the screens, but seeing they were safely airborne, the pilots ignored it.

Incidentally, the report also blamed the low-cost Malaysian carrier for not fitting their planes with upgraded flight management system. Had the system been installed, it would have prevented the erroneous entry and nipped the problem in the bud even before the plane had taken off.

The limited guidance from available checklist, combined with bad weather, prevented the pilots from returning to Sydney, and the AirAsia plane had to land in Melbourne instead. Acknowledging the incident, AirAsia has assured that all its planes have been upgraded and now comply with latest standards of aviation. As for all the unfortunate passengers, they reached their destination, albeit after taking a long and tiring detour. Interestingly, despite the wrong flight path, the AirAsia flight was delayed by just six hours.

[Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images]

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