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Cockpit mishap could've been behind Latam horror plunge: report

Author
Grant Bradley,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Mar 2024, 7:53AM

Cockpit mishap could've been behind Latam horror plunge: report

Author
Grant Bradley,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Mar 2024, 7:53AM

A cockpit mishap could have been the cause of a Latam Airlines’ plane’s frightening drop in mid-air about 300 km west of Auckland. 

And Boeing has sent out instructions to airlines with its 787 Dreamliners on how to inspect and maintain cockpit seat switches. 

About 50 of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s 272 crew were injured when they were tossed around the cabin and even into the ceiling during the terrifying incident on Monday. 

The Wall Street Journal reported unnamed US industry officials as saying the mishap may have occurred when a flight attendant serving a meal hit a switch on the pilot’s seat that pushed the pilot into the controls. 

A Latam Airlines Boeing 787 at Auckland Airport. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A Latam Airlines Boeing 787 at Auckland Airport. Photo / Brett Phibbs 

Boeing earlier sent an advisory on Thursday to airline operating 787 Dreamliners that “included instructions for inspecting and maintaining [cockpit seat] switches”, The Wall Street Journal also reported. 

Boeing didn’t comment on the investigation into Latam’s LA800 flight. 

But it said it took “the precautionary measure of reminding 787 operators of a service bulletin issued in 2017 which included instructions for inspecting and maintaining switches on flight deck seats”, The Guardian reported. 

“We are recommending operators perform an inspection at the next maintenance opportunity.” 

An ambulance leaving Auckland International Airport after a number of passengers were injured during a flight from Sydney to Auckland
Photo / Dean Purcell

An ambulance leaving Auckland International Airport after a number of passengers were injured during a flight from Sydney to Auckland Photo / Dean Purcell 

Crew on Latam Airlines LA-800 were finishing clearing up after lunch and were two-thirds of the way through the three-hour Sydney-Auckland flight on Monday when all hell broke loose. 

About 300km west of Auckland, the 200 tonne-plus Boeing Dreamliner dropped like a stone for maybe 45 seconds. 

The pilots managed to regain control and safely land at Auckland Airport. 

In a move praised by passengers, a pilot later walked through the cabin - by then strewn with casualties bleeding and in neck braces while others around them were in tears. 

It was a chat with passengers that spawned one strong theory as to what happened; an instrument blackout, which caused pilots to momentarily lose control of the plane travelling at about 960kph. 

It is one of a growing number of theories swirling in the absence of official information. 

LATAM airline 2

LATAM airline 2 

Latam is South America’s biggest airline, with a fleet of more than 400 planes across the group and last year made a $900m profit. 

It had said little about the incident by Friday afternoon. 

It did issue a 92-word statement on Monday, when it acknowledged the plane had “a technical problem during the flight which caused a strong movement”. 

Through its Australian PR agency, the airline said “some passengers and cabin crew were affected”. 

“Latam regrets the inconvenience and injury this situation may have caused its passengers, and reiterates its commitment to safety as a priority within the framework of its operational standards,” the statement said. 

The airline flies through Auckland exercising Fifth Freedom rights: it touches down to offload passengers and freight on the way between Santiago and Sydney. 

Passengers at Auckland International Airport waiting to check in for a replacement Air Latam flight to Chile following a terrifying flight from Sydney to Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell

Passengers at Auckland International Airport waiting to check in for a replacement Air Latam flight to Chile following a terrifying flight from Sydney to Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell 

It doesn’t have a base here so the lack of support for the walking wounded who didn’t need hospital treatment and other traumatised passengers was inevitable as contracted ground handlers would have been deployed. 

Burger vouchers issued at the airport while accommodation was sorted aggravated a bad situation. 

The Direccion General de Aeronautica Civil (DGAC) is leading the inquiry under the International Convention on Aviation. 

The National Transportation Safety Board in the United States could become involved as that’s the base of Boeing, which is facing other safety investigations into its troubled 737 Max programme. 

Like Latam, Boeing is saying little about the incident despite repeated inquiries. 

“We are thinking of the passengers and crew from Latam Airlines Flight 800, and we commend everyone involved in the response effort. We are in contact with our customer, and Boeing stands ready to support investigation-related activities as requested.” the Chicago-headquartered firm said. 

Grant Bradley has been working at the Herald since 1993. He is the Business Herald’s deputy editor and covers aviation and tourism. 

 

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