Hero pilot reveals how computers on Qantas flight broke down at 37,000ft causing plane to plummet towards ocean

Aviation

Kevin Sullivan said the aftermath of the flight looked like “the incredible Hulk had gone through there in a rage and ripped the place apart”

A heroic pilot has described the moment he thought he was going to die after computers on his plane broke down in mid-air.

Kevin Sullivan, who was flying the jet from Singapore to Perth, Australia, said the aftermath of the flight looked like “the incredible Hulk had gone through there in a rage and ripped the place apart”.

The Airbus A330 had been cruising at 37,000 feet when the autopilot stopped working and nosedived into the Indian Ocean twice, before the captain declared a mayday.

He then made an emergency landing, with no fatalities.

The Airbus A330 had been cruising at 37,000 feet when the autopilot stopped working
The Airbus A330 had been cruising at 37,000 feet when the autopilot stopped working (file picture) (Photo: www.alamy.com)

Although Sullivan’s incredible actions meant nobody was killed during the flight on October 7, 2008, he says he has been left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now eight years later, he has broken his silence to talk about the incident which changed his life.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald : “It’s the worst thing that can happen when you are in an aeroplane – when you are not in control.

“And you have a choice. You can either succumb to that or you fight it. I was fighting that outcome and I have been ever since.”

In total, 115 people were injured on the flight, which was carrying 303 passengers and 12 crew members.

A passenger injured in the mid-air incident leaving the airport (Photo: Getty Images AsiaPac)

Mr Sullivan had to take manual control of the plane, Qantas Flight 72, when it plunged for the first time at 12.42pm.

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On that occasion, it went an alarming 150 feet down in two seconds.

Moments later, he felt responses to his control-stick movements and the plane was broguht back to 37,000 feet.

But his relief was short-lived as the plane plummeted again – this time, 400 feet in just over 15 seconds, Daily Mail Australia reports.

He and the pilots then realised one of the three flight control primary computers (PRIMs) was faulty.

He was concerned about how he would safely manage an emergency landing, but knew that continuing on to Perth could be even more devastating for the injured.

A passenger is stretchered from a plane to a waiting ambulance after the plane’s near miss (Photo: Getty Images AsiaPac)

After declaring the mayday, he put in Learmoth Airport into the computer for navigation, but it showed ‘error.’

He said he wondered if his life was going to end there and then and began enraged, “cursing like a drunken sailor”.

In a last ditch attempt to prevent the plane from crashing, he lowered the jet’s nose and powered to idle as he began the final approach without all the necessary instruments.

After landing safely, his passengers and crew cheered and clapped.

At least 20 passengers and crew aboard the flight were seriously injured – some with spinal injuries and others with broken bones and deep cuts.

A family on the flight leaving the airport (Photo: Getty Images AsiaPac)

When he was finally able to enter the cabin, Mr Sullivan described the scene as looking like ‘the Incredible Hulk had gone through there in a rage and ripped the place apart.’

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Three years after the accident, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found inaccurate data on measures, including airspeed and angle of attack, sent to the plane’s computers.

One of the PRIMs commanded the plane to dive, but investigators could not pinpoint exactly what prompted the incorrect data.

Mr Sullivan, who was 53 at the time, took eight months off work after the incident.

When he went back, he said he was constantly alert and worried about losing control.

The former US Navy pilot left Qantas last year after three decades.

But despite having left the airline, he said he still worries about the greater control computers have over flying.

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