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Texting Pilot Nearly Caused Jet to Crash

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) -- An airplane captain distracted by incoming text messages on his cell phone was the reason a flight from Australia to Singapore had to abort a touch-down just 500 feet from the tarmac, an investigation has found.  The pilot was so distracted he didn’t notice that the landing gear was not deployed.

Jetstar Flight JQ57 was nearing the end of a four-hour flight from Darwin, Australia, to Singapore’s Changi Airport on May 27, 2010, when the captain’s mobile phone started beeping with incoming text messages and he failed to respond to the co-pilot’s requests, according to a report issued by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The 220-seat Airbus A320 plane was less than 2,500 feet above the tarmac when the captain’s phone started beeping to alert him of missed text messages, the report found.

As the plane descended, the first officer, in control of the plane at the time, felt “something was not quite right,” he told investigators, and tried to alert the captain that he wanted to pull out of the landing.

The co-pilot looked over and saw the captain “preoccupied with his mobile phone,” the report said.

“The FO (first officer) recalled that, after still not getting a response from the captain, he looked over and, on seeing the captain preoccupied with his mobile phone, set the missed approach altitude himself,” the report stated, according to the Herald Sun.

The captain told investigators he had forgotten to turn his phone off before takeoff and was trying to unlock it to do so when he missed the co-pilot’s alarms.

The lack of communication in the cockpit caused both pilots to miss that the plane’s landing gear had not been lowered until it was too late.

When the plane fell to 500 feet with the landing gear still not deployed, a warning alarm sounded and it was only then that the pilots thrust the plane back into the air, investigators said.

The investigation concluded that the captain, reported to have more than 13,000 hours flying experience, and his co-pilot failed to follow a number of standard pre-landing tasks, including lowering the landing gear, completing the landing checklist, selecting auto break and checking the flight parameters.

Despite the errors, the Board did not issue fines against Jetstar or the pilots.

A Jetstar spokesman said the airline made the flight a case study and used it to introduce procedural changes for pilots including completing landing checklists before 1,000 feet and a reminder to pilots to ensure their mobile phones are switched off before take-off.

“We take a very conservative approach to how far before touchdown an aircraft should be completely configured for landing,” Jetstar chief pilot Mark Rindfleish said, the Herald Sun reports.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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