Published on : Tuesday, February 7, 2017
An extremely bored Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot flying nearly 200 service personnel to Afghanistan sent his passenger jet into a nosedive when a camera, he had been playing with, jammed the flight controls, a court martial heard.
As the Voyager aircraft plummeted 4,400ft in seconds, passengers were pinned to the ceiling and left thinking they were going to die.
But after Flt Lt Andrew Townshend regained control of the 197ft wingspan aircraft, he allegedly lied in both a technical log and service inquiry and insisted the incident had been caused by a technical fault.
The 49-year-old denied two counts of perjury and making a false record in relation to lying, but admits negligently performing a duty in relation to causing the camera to collide with the side-stick.
Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire heard Flt Lt Townshend was bored while flying from the UK to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and “practicing long-exposure photography when his co-pilot left the cockpit to get a cup of tea”.
His Nikon DSLR camera was positioned in front of his arm rest and became jammed with the plane’s controls when he moved his seat forward in the incident in February 2014.
The camera wedged between his arm rest and the ‘side-stick’ – a joystick used to control the plane – which pushed it forward, disengaging the auto-pilot and causing the plane to nosedive.
Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said: “The descent was unannounced so passengers experienced weightlessness, they were thrown to the ceiling and thought they were going to die.
“This all happened while he was alone in the cockpit, the co-pilot managed to get back to his seat and was in fact on the ceiling while trying to gain control with Townshend.
“Fortunately they managed to gain control of the plane.”
During the nosedive, Flt Lt Townshend repeatedly swore and later announced to his 187 military passengers he “was not sure” what caused it.
Both he and the co-pilot were pinned to the ceiling, and wrestled with the controls as aircraft plummeted towards the Black Sea carrying 187 passengers.
Mr Lickley said checks carried out when the plane landed in Turkey revealed there were no technical issues and said Flt Lt Townshend had caused the side stick to move forward.
He added a “bored” Flt Lt Townshend, based at RAF Northolt, was seen during the flight taking photos of passing aircraft.
Flt Lt Townshend later deleted photographs he had taken immediately before the incident.
“Flt Lt Townshend was not concentrating while flying and was bored. The camera and side stick have damage to them which is consistent with them coming into contact like they did.
“He disputes putting the camera next to him and knowing the camera was in the position it was while jammed. He says it had fallen from a shelf.
“Days later at two service inquiries, while answering questions under oath, he did not tell the truth. He said the reason for the incident was a technical malfunction.”
Flt Lt Nathan Jones, the co-pilot, suffered a cut to the head, a fractured back, a prolapsed disc and nerve damage.
The court heard 14 passengers were so badly hurt they were unable to fly back to the UK.
The trial, expected to last two weeks, continues.
Tags: royal air force