"Bored" pilot's fumble caused nosedive, court martial hears

A Royal Air Force officer is accused of perjury and negligence after alleged cock-pit cover-up

"Bored" pilot's fumble caused nosedive, court martial hears

The Voyager jet flown by the RAF [AirTanker.com]

A British Royal Air Force pilot was playing with a camera and accidentally sent the jet he was flying with 200 service personnel on the way to Afghanistan, a court martial was told. The aircraft dropped 1,300m in 27 seconds, with the passengers thrown up to the ceiling and in fear for their lives.

Flt Lt Andrew Townshend then reassumed control of the plane, but is alleged to have lied on the flight’s technical log and service inquiry, insisting that the incident had been caused by a technical fault with the Voyager aircraft.

“Long-exposure photography”

The 49-year-old pilot has denied lying in the documents and filing a false record, but has acknowledged that causing his camera to hit the slide-stick and send the jet into a nose dive was negligent. Townshend explained that he had been “practising long-exposure photography when his co-pilot left the cockpit to get a cup of tea,” only for his camera to become jammed against the plane’s controls.

The incident, which occurred three years ago, disengaged the auto-pilot and thrust the plane into a dramatic dive, The Telegraph reports.

“The descent was unannounced so passengers experienced weightlessness, they were thrown to the ceiling and thought they were going to die,” said Nigel Lickley, QC, in Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire, England.

“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, he managed to gain control of the plane.”

Alleged cover-up

After returning to a cruising altitude, Flt Lt Townhend told his 187 passengers that he “was not sure” what had caused the dive. He then deleted photographs he had taken immediately beforehand, though reports emerged that the “bored” pilot had been seen during the flight taking photos of other aircraft flying over the Black Sea.

The prosecution also claims that damage to the pilot’s camera matches marks made on the cockpit slide-stick, though the pilot says the near-accident was caused when his camera fell off a shelf and hit the instrument.

“In a tech-log after they landed, [Townshend] said it was a mechanical issue and suggested there was a very serious issue with the aircraft,” the prosecution said.

“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.”


A number of passengers and crew were injured when they were thrown and pinned to the ceiling of the Voyager jet during the rapid descent. The co-pilot, Flt Lt Nathan Jones, received a head wound, a fractured back, a prolapsed disc and nerve damage.

The court also heard that 14 passengers had injuries so serious they were unable to fly back to the UK.

The case is ongoing and is expected to last a fortnight.

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