Don't text and fly: Pilot nearly crashes plane while checking text messages

A commercial passenger airplane nearly touched down without landing gears because the pilot was too busy texting

In an extreme case of cell phone distraction, a commercial passenger airplane nearly touched down without its landing gears, because the pilot was too busy texting while flying.

Fortunately, the plane's crew realized the problem just 392 feet above the ground, and aborted the landing. The 220-seat Airbus 320 landed on its second approach without incident.

The close call occurred on a Jetstar flight from Darwin, Australia to Singapore on May 27, 2010. According to The Age, an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has just now revealed all the details.

The pilot was trying to unlock his phone and turn it off, because he'd failed to do so before takeoff and was receiving text messages 2,000 feet in the sky. On two occasions, the pilot didn't respond to requests from the co-pilot, who at 1,000 feet realized that "something was not quite right" with the airplane.

Only when a cockpit alert sounded at 720 feet did the main pilot realize what was going on. He instinctively tried to retract the landing gear, but by then the plane was already too low. The crew finally aborted the landing at 392 feet.

Jetstar has downplayed the hairiness of the situation. In a press statement, the company said canceled landings--or "go-arounds"-- are standard procedure when landing checklist items aren't completed in time. "Human factors, like distraction, are why airlines have so many procedural safeguards built into how they fly," Jetstar's Chief Pilot, Captain Mark Rindfleish, said.

In any case, Jetstar has increased the distance for completing the landing checklist from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. It's also adding a reminder for pilots to turn off their cell phones before takeoff. Apparently they don't listen to flight attendants' pre-flight safety briefings.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)

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