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ATSB: ‘Data Entry Error’ Cause of Navigational Mistake Landing in Melbourne

Panic in the airplane with pilot screaming for sudden failure

Wrong place, wrong time: Australian authorities reveal how a pair of faulty ear muffs and a set of mistyped coordinates resulted in a whopper of a navigational error.

It may have been a simple data entry error, but a Kuala Lumpur-bound AirAsia X flight departing from Sydney ended up in Melbourne when the pilot keyed incorrect coordinates into the plane’s navigational system.

The details of the incident, which occurred on March 10, 2015, have been released this week in a report published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

According to this publication, the cause of the incident can be traced back to a defective set of safety headgear. It appears that the captain’s protective set of earmuffs were not available, so he and the first officer swapped their usual pre-flight checks.

Under normal conditions, the pilot would be responsible for conducting a final external inspection of the plane. However, as the captain of the A330 lacked the correct safety gear, the flight’s first officer conducted the visual check while the pilot conducted routine cockpit tasks, including entering in the departure coordinates as given at the gate.

While the captain manually entered the coordinates as given into the system, the ATSB’s report showed that the navigational mistake was due to a “data entry error.”

Rather than entering the correct longitude of 151° 9.8’ east, or 15109.8 into the system, the pilot wrongly keyed the figure as 15° 19.8’ east, or 01519.8.

The ATSB report said that, “This resulted in a positional error in excess of 11,000km (6,835 miles).”

The crew did not notice the error until the flight was airborne despite having a number of opportunities to correct themselves.

At this point in the journey, the crew did attempt to rectify the plane’s struggling navigational system. This, along with crowded runways and poor weather, hampered a landing in Sydney and so the flight was instead directed to Melbourne.

The plane was grounded for three hours before eventually taking off for Kuala Lumpur, landing in Malaysia six hours behind schedule.

This incident, said that ATSB, proved that, “even experienced flight crew are not immune from data entry errors.” The body also advised AirAsia X to upgrade its systems with an eye to preventing any similar future incidents.

[Photo: Getty]

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