A pilot nearly caused a jet plane to crash when he was distracted by incoming text messages on his cell phone. The flight from Australia to Singapore was forced to abort touch-down because the distracted pilot forgot to deploy the landing gear.
ABC News reports that the commercial passenger Jetstar Flight JQ57, was at the end of a four-hour flight from Darwin, Australia, to Singapore's Changi Airport on May 27, 2010, when the pilot's cellphone received new text messages. The beep indicating an incoming message on the cellphone caused the pilot to fail to notice the co-pilot's attempt to communicate with him.
PC World reports that according to the report from an investigation conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the plane was less than 2,500 feet above the tarmac when the pilot's phone beeped to alert him of incoming text messages. The co-pilot told investigators that as the plane descended, he felt "something was not quite right," and he tried to tell the pilot that he was going to pull out of landing, but when he looked over his shoulders he saw that his captain was engrossed with his mobile phone and was not paying attention.
According to the report, “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 pilot, according to ABC News, admitted to investigators that he forgot to switch off his cellphone before takeoff, and was trying to unlock it to allow him switch off at the moment the co-pilot tried to communicate with him.
The break in communication between pilot and co-pilot caused the two to fail to notice that the plane's landing gear had not been lowered and by the time they both noticed it was too late to complete the landing.
PC World reports that after the plane had descended to about 720 feet, with the landing gear still not deployed, a warning alarm went off in the cockpit. The alarm drew the pilot's attention to the fact that the landing gear had not been deployed. The pilots then rushed to abort landing at about 492 feet and flew the plane back into the air
According to ABC News, investigators concluded that the pilot and his co-pilot failed to execute several pre-landing tasks, including lowering the landing gear, selecting auto break, checking flight parameter and completing the landing checklist.
PC World reports Jetstar tried to downplay the situation. In a press statement, a spokesman said that canceled landings are "standard procedure" when landing checklists are not completed in time. Jetstar chief pilot Mark Rindflesh, said: “Human factors, like distraction, are why airlines have so many procedural safeguards built into how they fly."
No fines were issued against Jetstar or the pilots, but PC World reports Jestar said it has increased the distance for completing the landing checklist from 500 feet to 1,000 feet, and added a reminder for pilots to remember to switch off cellphones before takeoff.
This is not the first time that the issue of pilots texting in the cockpit has arisen in investigation of commercial airline activity. Huffington Post reports that in 2010, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was told, in the investigation of the case of the fatal crash of Continental Connection flight 3407, that the First Officer on the flight sent two text messages from the cockpit. One of the messages was sent five minutes after takeoff in contravention of regulations.