Aviation

Pilot’s coffee spillage causes plane carrying hundreds to divert

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

A transatlantic flight carrying hundreds of passengers was forced to divert after a pilot spilt coffee on the plane’s controls, according to an incident report.

The UK government’s September Air Accidents Investigation Branch report, on 6 February 2019, an Airbus A330-243 operated by German leisure airline Condor was forced to divert to the Republic of Ireland after coffee was spilt on an audio control panel (ACP).

The jet was travelling from Frankfurt, Germany, to Cancun, Mexico, and was carrying 11 crew and 326 passengers – none of who were injured despite the accident.

The commanding pilot, 49, who has 13,135 hours of flying experience, was served a cup of coffee without a lid mid-flight – normal for the operator – when, after putting it down during pilot monitoring, it spilt, mostly into the commander’s lap and partly onto an ACP.

The coffee on the console was dried quickly but resulted in immediate malfunction.

After the spill, the unit became very hot and failed, and caused an “electric burning smell” to enter the cockpit. Moreover, it caused significant communication difficulties for the flight crew and forced them to use oxygen masks, after a small amount of smoke was observed coming from the commander’s ACP.

The co-pilot’s ACP was also affected and became hot enough to start melting one of its buttons before failing, according to the report, which did not find a concrete cause for the co-pilot’s unit having failed.

As a result, the commander diverted the flight to Shannon, Republic of Ireland “without further incident”.

“The smoke stopped and though there was a residual burning smell, the fumes did not result in injuries to anyone on board,” the report noted.

Condor has since changed its procedure to ensure cup lids are provided for flights and reminded cabin crew to use them, although the report cited the fact that cups on this route were too large for cup holders.

The airline has raised an action to source and supply appropriately-sized cups for the aircraft’s cup holders.

“Flight DE2116 from Frankfurt to Cancun on February 6, 2019, diverted to Shannon airport as a precautionary measure due to a minor amount of smoke in the cockpit after a liquid spillage,” a Condor spokeswoman told Travel Weekly.

“After the aircraft was fully inspected and repaired by our team of engineers, the flight continued via Manchester due to the legal operating hours of the crew. As safety is always our top priority, we have comprehensively investigated this incident and reviewed the procedures of liquids in the cockpit.

“Our crews were reminded of a careful handling as well as to use appropriate containers for their water or coffee. We apologize for any inconveniences the diversion might have caused to our guests,” she said.

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