How a small typo landed a commercial plane in the wrong country

airasia captain typo
Master Octa/Flickr
A pilot landing a passenger plane in the wrong city sounds bad enough, but in the wrong country? Yes, it happened.

Detailed in a report released this week by Australia’s aviation agency, the bizarre AirAsia flight, which had 212 passengers on board, was the result of a catalog of errors that began before the aircraft had even left the ground.

The incident took place in March last year and was largely the result of the captain entering the wrong co-ordinates into the Airbus A330’s flight system shortly before take-off.

Instead of entering the longitude as 151° 9.8’ east, or “15109.8”, the pilot mistakenly input 15° 19.8’ east, or “01519.8”. This had the effect of making the aircraft think it was in Cape Town, South Africa, 6800 miles away. But it was in Sydney.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the crucial typo “adversely affected the aircraft’s navigation functions, global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and some electronic centralised aircraft monitoring alerts.” In other words, there was no way this plane was going to Malaysia.

The ATSB’s report said the aircraft’s safety systems gave the pilots several chances early on “to identify and correct the error,” but they failed to realize anything was amiss until the plane began tracking in the wrong direction when the autopilot engaged shortly after departure.

And this is where the story gets a bit scary. As the plane diverted from its originally intended course almost immediately after take-off, it crossed over a parallel runway just several hundred feet from the ground. Fortunately it managed to avoid any close encounters with other aircraft in the vicinity.

Once in the air, the pilots attempted to correct the situation. However, they were unable to do so as the cause of the problem still wasn’t clear to them.

Believing the safest course of action would be to land as soon as possible, the captain asked to return to Sydney. But after informing air traffic control that issues with the plane’s navigation system meant they could only land via a visual approach, the pilots were ordered to divert to Melbourne because of poor weather and low visibility. The plane landed safely in Melbourne a couple of hours later.

The entire episode could’ve been avoided if the plane had been upgraded with Airbus’s latest flight management system, which would’ve spotted and prevented the data entry error. AirAsia has since performed the upgrade to its fleet.

As for the passengers, it’s not reported when they finally made it to Malaysia.

Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Business

Singapore Airlines passengers unsettled by cameras in seat-back displays

A number of passengers flying with Singapore Airlines recently expressed concern over cameras embedded in seat-back displays on some of its aircraft, though the carrier insists the devices have been disabled.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.
Emerging Tech

Engineer turns his old Apple lle into an wheeled robot, and even gives it a sword

How do you give new life to a 30-year-old computer? Software engineer Mike Kohn found a way by transforming his old Apple IIe into a wheeled robot. Check it out in all its 1980s glory.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic completes another test flight, this time with a passenger

Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses rode the company's spacecraft as a passenger on Friday, a key milestone toward commercial availability of the flights later this year. Moses rode along to test "cabin design elements."
Emerging Tech

Controversial CRISPR baby experiment may have resulted in brain enhancements

China’s CRISPR baby saga continues to rage on. Scientists have now expressed concerns that the procedure may have also resulted in changes in the babies’ brains affecting cognition.
Emerging Tech

Sick of fruits and veggies going bad? This second skin doubles their life spans

The world has a food spoilage problem. Could Apeel Sciences help with its concept of giving fresh produce a 'second skin' to keep it fresh for up to twice as long? Some big names think so.