Fit Lt Andrew Townshend accidentally switched off autopilot
Flt Lt Andrew Townshend accidentally switched off the autopilot of the A330 Voyager with 198 passengers and crew on board when he pushed his camera by moving his seat.
A court martial heard he was bored and taking pictures of the stars while his co-pilot had left the cockpit for a cup of tea.
Flt Lt Townshend, 49, a veteran of 30 years and 5,500 flying hours with service in Iraq and Bosnia, admitted negligently performing a duty.
Picture from Townshend’s camera shown in court of the co-pilot after the jet landed
Their lives and health and welfare were put at significant risk
Nigel Lickley QC
He put his head in his hands as he was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 12 months, as well as being dismissed from the RAF.
Earlier this week he was cleared of two counts of perjury and one of making a false record at the court martial at Bulford, Wilts.
The jet was at 33,000ft bound for Afghanistan and dived 4,400ft in 29 seconds leaving many fearing for their life, the court heard. Co-pilot Flt Lt Nathan Jones, crawled along the ceiling to get to the cockpit and regain control.
Townshend pushed his camera by moving his seat
Forty eight personnel were left unfit for duty. Flt Lt Jones suffered spinal fractures and has still not resumed flying duties.
Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said: “Their lives and health and welfare were put at significant risk.” It cost the RAF £2million when the Voyager fleet was grounded for the investigation.
The court heard that Townshend, who earned £56,000 a year, deleted photos because he feared they would make him look unprofessional although there was no camera ban in the cockpit.
Townshend deleted photos because he feared it would make him look unprofessional
Judge Advocate Alan Large said: “When you were alone in the cockpit nothing was happening and you failed to stay vigilant. You allowed a dangerous situation to happen when you moved your seat forward. This was not a momentary lapse…your eye was well off the ball.”
John Price QC, defending, said of his client: “He is an admirable and conscientious officer with many years of loyal and faithful service.”