Put A Lid On It: Flight Diverts After Pilot Spills Coffee

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

There’s an old joke where an airline pilot is giving an announcement after reaching cruising altitude. 

Part way through he screams “Oh my god!” and the intercom goes silent. The passengers wait in fear until the pilot comes back on to explain that he just spilled a cup of coffee in the cockpit. “You should see the front of my pants!” he says. Whereupon a passenger yells: “You should see the back of mine!”

It’s no joke. Earlier this year, a transatlantic flight was forced to divert to Ireland because a pilot spilled a cup of coffee on the aircraft's controls.

According to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the Airbus A330-243, operated by Condor, was traveling from Frankfurt to Cancun on 6FEB when it was forced to jettison fuel and divert to Shannon airport.

The 49-year-old pilot, who has over 13,000 hours of flying experience, had been given a cup of coffee without a lid by cabin crew and accidentally knocked it over as the plane was flying over the North Atlantic, carrying 11 crew and 326 passengers.

Some of the liquid spilled onto the audio control panel, which became very hot and produced smoke and a burning smell. The damage caused "significant communication difficulty for the flight crew," and forced them to wear oxygen masks, the report said.

The equipment became so hot that one of the buttons on the control panel began to melt, which prompted the pilot to divert.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said there were no injuries and that the airline had since changed its procedures to ensure cup lids are provided for flights on all routes.

"The operator also issued a flight crew notice reminding pilots to be careful with liquids," it said.

A spokesperson for Condor -- part of the Thomas Cook Group -- told CNN in a statement: 

"Flight DE2116 from Frankfurt to Cancun on February 6, 2019, diverted to Shannon airport as a precautionary measure due to a minor amount of smoke in the cockpit after a liquid spillage. 

"After the aircraft was fully inspected and repaired by our team of engineers, the flight continued via Manchester due to the legal operating hours of the crew. As safety is always our top priority, we have comprehensively investigated this incident and reviewed the procedures of liquids in the cockpit. Our crews were reminded of a careful handling as well as to use appropriate containers for their water or coffee. We apologize for any inconveniences the diversion might have caused to our guests."

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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