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Pilots struggle to control plane when autopilot malfunctions

The captain of the Lithuanian Klasjet Boeing had 4,300 hours to his credit, while the first officer had “about 2,000" hours. Yet when the autopilots failed, they struggled to maintain altitude, glide slope, or even fly in a straight line, as they attempted to return to the airport. Visibility was not great, but both pilots had instrument ratings, and there’s no reason why the flight could not have continued its scheduled destination, except that it required the pilots to actually fly the plane.  The crew missed two approaches to the origin airport before diverting to a nearby military airport, which called for another meandering flight across the countryside. Passengers and crew were unhurt. 

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But flight-data recorder information, it says, clearly shows the crew had “considerable problems maintaining the basic flight parameters”, including altitude, airspeed and heading, particularly during turns.

“The problems maintaining the basic flight parameters due to the absence of automatic control systems indicates that neither the decision-making nor the co-operation between the crew were adequate,” the inquiry says.

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Illustration for article titled Pilots struggle to control plane when autopilot malfunctions
Photo: CIAIAC

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