A pilot with an artificial arm lost control of a passenger plane after the prosthetic limb fell off the steering mechanism in a shock accident, a report has revealed.
The incident, on a Flybe flight to Belfast City Airport, came as the Dash 8 aircraft with 47 passengers on board was approaching the airport in gusty conditions.
Shortly before, the 46-year-old pilot had checked that his prosthetic lower left arm was securely attached to the clamp he used to fly the aircraft.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said the captain had disconnected the autopilot and was flying the aircraft manually.
It said that as he made the ‘flare manoeuvre' - a levelling of the plane shortly before touchdown - “his prosthetic limb became detached from the yoke clamp, depriving him of control of the aircraft”.
The captain considered getting the co-pilot to take control but concluded that, given the time available and challenging conditions, his best course of action was to move his right hand from the power levers on to the yoke - the steering column - to regain control.
The report continued: “He did this, but with power still applied and possibly a gust affecting the aircraft, a normal touchdown was followed by a bounce, from which the aircraft landed heavily.”
No one on the flight between Birmingham and Belfast was hurt and the plane was not damaged in the incident on the evening of February 12 this year.
The AAIB reported that the captain had said that in future he would be more cautious about checking the attachment on his prosthesis as he may have dislodged the latching mechanism during this check.
He said he would also brief his co-pilots about the possibility of a similar event and that they should be ready to take control at any time.
In response to the report, Captain Ian Baston, Flybe Director of Flight Operations and Safety, said: “Flybe is proud to be an Equal Opportunities Employer.
“This, in common with most airlines, means we do employ staff with reduced physical abilities.
“Where appropriate, and in accordance with Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirements, this does include pilots.
“The senior captain referred to in this report is one of Flybe’s most experienced and trusted pilots.
“The airline confirms that at no
time was the safety of its passengers or crew compromised in any way, nor was the aircraft damaged.
“Following the incident, Flybe immediately undertook a detailed internal investigation from which it determined a series of additional fail-safe safety checks,” he added.
“These were rigorously tested and instigated immediately to ensure that this type of incident could not happen again.
“The safety of our passengers and crew is our number one priority.
“This means that Flybe not only adheres to the CAA’s strict requirements relating to the employment of staff with a reduced physical ability, but exceeds them to ensure that safety is never compromised.
“Flybe understands that the AAIB is to review this report to more clearly contextualise certain issues referred to in its findings.”
Chris Yates, an independent aviation analyst based in Bolton, said that the incident was simply unfortunate and there was no reason why a pilot with a prosthetic arm couldn't fly a commercial plane.
“There is no earthly reason why someone with that range of disability should not fly an aircraft,” he said.
“It is only through ill-fortune that the artificial limb became detached from the control column. That is basically the bottom line. It is just one of those unfortunate incidents that happens from time to time.”
Mr Yates said pilots with prosthetic limbs were “relatively rare” but not unheard of.
The Dash 8 aircraft flown into George Best Belfast City airport has a local link as it is made by Canadian firm Bombardier which has a huge plant in the city.
The Dash 8 is prized for its short take off and landing capability and low operational cost.
Belfast City Airport developed out of the former Short Brothers aircraft factory landing strip which was used to test fly planes and ferry completed aircraft to overseas buyers, before developing as a commercial and passenger hub.