England

RAF pilot Andrew Townshend dismissed over nosedive

Flt Lt Andrew Townshend Image copyright Solent News and Photo Agency
Image caption Flt Lt Andrew Townshend told the court he had a passion for star-gazing

An RAF pilot who caused his plane to nosedive while using a digital camera has been dismissed by a military court.

Flt Lt Andrew Townshend cost the Ministry of Defence millions of pounds when he deactivated the autopilot of the military passenger jet.

The Voyager aircraft, which had 198 passengers and crew on board, plummeted 4,400ft (1,341m) over the Black Sea.

Townshend pleaded guilty to negligently performing a duty and was also handed a four-month suspended prison sentence.

The court martial heard that during a flight from RAF Brize Norton to Afghanistan on 9 February 2014 the 49-year-old pilot's camera was pushed into the aircraft's control stick as he moved his seat, switching off the autopilot.

'Stranded in Afghanistan'

A board of RAF officers at Bulford, Wiltshire, heard crew and passengers thought they were going to die during the flight, and some were thrown weightless into the air and smashed into the ceiling.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Airbus A330 Voyager aircraft (similar to the one pictured) plummeted 4,400ft in a matter of seconds

Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said the incident led to the grounding of the military fleet of six Voyager aircraft for 13 days while the cause of the nosedive was investigated.

This led to service personnel being stranded in Afghanistan while they waited for the aircraft to be brought back into service, he added.

He said up to 48 personnel were left unfit for duty and the co-pilot, Flt Lt Nathan Jones, who suffered fractures to his spine, is still unable to resume flying duties.

Mr Lickley said: "Their lives and health and welfare were put at significant risk by Flt Lt Townshend's negligence."

The experienced pilot - who has served with the RAF for 30 years and completed 5,500 flying hours - had been using his camera to photograph other aircraft from the cockpit and had taken 95 shots that day.

He also told the court that he had been viewing the star-filled sky moments before the incident, as he had a passion for star-gazing.

Judge Advocate Alan Large told Townshend: "This was not a momentary lapse of concentration, your eye was well off the ball."

On Wednesday, Townshend was found not guilty of perjury and making a false record, after being accused of dishonestly claiming the dive was caused by a technical fault.

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