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George Hobica

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When Pilots Go Postal: Mayhem In The Cockpit

Posted: 03/29/2012 2:00 pm

Thousands of airplanes take off and touch down every day without incident, but every now and then -- as we were so vividly reminded this week with the story of the JetBlue pilot and his midair meltdown -- things can go spectacularly wrong. Sometimes, it's the guys up at the front of the plane, the ones you trust the most, who are to blame. Aviation history is full of stories of captains going cuckoo at the controls. Let's just say, flyer beware.

2008: Crew of an Air Canada Boeing 767 had to forcibly subdue the second-in-command on a flight from Toronto to London's Heathrow, after mildly unusual behavior turned into a full-stage freakout. The captain reported that his first officer had appeared tired at first; then, somewhere out over the Atlantic, his condition deteriorated to the point where his presence in the cockpit became a safety threat. Crew sustained injuries as they battled with their belligerent colleague, forcing the plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, where the co-pilot was admitted to an area hospital for a nice, long rest.

1999: There's still no agreement between the United States and Egyptian governments as to why EgyptAir Flight 990 went down in the Atlantic Ocean on its way from New York to Cairo. It is, however, widely believed that Relief First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti, on his own in the cockpit while the captain took a bathroom break, idled the engines, nosed the plane down, said a prayer -- translated as "I rely on God" -- and waited. With the plane in mid-dive, the captain fought his way back to the cockpit in an attempt to avert catastrophe, shouting at Al-Batouti as he struggled with the controls. He was too late: The plane hit the water roughly 200 miles from Nantucket Island; all 217 people on board were killed.

1997: SilkAir's Flight 185 from Jakarta, Indonesia was supposed to be a short, easy hop of less than two hours, on the company's newest aircraft, a sparkling 737. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really -- except that on this December day, the man at the controls was one Tsu Way Ming. To say that Tsu was practically buried in problems is understating matters -- a troubled past, a spotty flying record that lead to a shameful demotion at work, millions of dollars in gambling debts were just some of the many things on Tsu's mind that day when he showed up for work. Authorities disagree (officially anyway) on exactly why, mid-flight, the data recorder was manually shut off and then, moments later, the plane took a nosedive into an Indonesian river. What is known, however, is that all 103 people on board were killed.

1994: It's not every day a pilot gets to bring his family to work, and Pilot Yaroslav Kudrinsky was understandably pleased to have his children on board Aeroflot Flight 593 from Moscow to Hong Kong back in 1994. In turn, his children were excited for the opportunity to hang out in the cockpit. Kudrinsky did more than hand out the usual wing pin, allowing his 12 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son to take the controls. Kudrinsky had the plane on autopilot at the time, of course; this was fine, until 16 year-old Eldar inadvertently caused an override of the autopilot system. This could have been corrected quite easily, had the flight crew noticed in time. They didn't. Investigators reported later that their corrective actions had in fact contributed to the crash, which killed all 75 occupants on board.

 

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