'Bored' RAF pilot to be sentenced for negligence after causing jet to nosedive
An RAF pilot is to be sentenced at court martial for negligence after he caused a military passenger jet to go into a nosedive when his digital camera became stuck against the flight stick, deactivating the autopilot.
Flight Lieutenant Andrew Townshend, 49, pleaded guilty to negligently performing a duty in relation to the Nikon D5300 DSLR camera colliding with the aircraft's control stick.
He was also accused of lying in a technical log and a service inquiry when he initially claimed the incident had been caused by a technical fault, but he was cleared at Bulford military court, Wiltshire, of two counts of perjury and one of making a false record.
The trial heard that the incident took place over the Black Sea during a flight from RAF Brize Norton to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan on February 9 2014.
The court heard that many of the crew and passengers thought they were going to die when the Voyager aircraft plummeted 4,400ft in a matter of seconds.
The defendant, who has served with the RAF for 30 years and completed 5,500 flying hours, said he had been "bored" during the flight, and was using his camera to take photographs of other aircraft from the cockpit, taking 95 shots that day.
He told the court he had enjoyed photography as a hobby since he was a child and had treated himself to the camera when his marriage had ended.
The defendant also told the court he had been viewing the star-filled sky moments before the incident as he had a passion for star-gazing.
Townshend said that after the flight, he filled in his flight log stating that he believed at the time there had been an issue with the autopilot but he now accepted that his camera must have deactivated the autopilot.
He will be sentenced at Bulford by Judge Alan Large and a board of RAF officers.