RAF Voyager

An RAF pilot flying almost 200 service personnel to Afghanistan sent his aircraft into a nosedive after accidentally jamming the flight controls with his camera, a court martial has heard.

Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire heard that Flight Lieutenant Townshend began "practising long-exposure photography when his co-pilot left the cockpit to get a cup of tea", after becoming bored during the flight to Camp Bastion in February 2014.

But passengers were pinned to the ceiling and left thinking they were going to die after the Voyager aircraft plunged 4,400ft in seconds, when the camera became wedged between his armrest and the 'side-stick', according to the Telegraph.

Nosedive Camera Side-Stick Reconstruction
A reconstruction showing how the camera could have become jammed

The Nikon DSLR camera became jammed against the side-stick - the joystick used to control the plane - when he moved his seat forward, inadvertently disengaging the auto-pilot and causing the plane to nosedive.

He admits having negligently performed a duty in relation to the incident. Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said:

"The descent was unannounced so passengers experienced weightlessness, they were thrown to the ceiling and thought they were going to die."

"This all happened while he was alone in the cockpit, the co-pilot managed to get back to his seat and was in fact on the ceiling while trying to gain control with Townshend.

"Fortunately they managed to gain control of the plane."

After Flt Lt Townshend, 49, regained control of the aircraft, however, he allegedly lied in both a technical log and service inquiry, saying the incident had been caused by a technical fault.

He's also alleged to have later deleted photographs he had taken shortly before the incident.

The court martial heard that during the nosedive Flt Lt Townshend repeatedly swore while he and his co-pilot were pinned to the ceiling, as they wrestled with the controls.

RAF Voyager Cockpit
An RAF Voyager cockpit

He later announced to his 187 military passengers later that he "was not sure" what caused it.

Flt Lt Townshend denies two counts of perjury and making a false record in relation to lying.

Mr Lickley said the "bored" defendant, based at RAF Northolt, had been seen taking photos of passing aircraft, and that checks carried out when the plane landed in Turkey revealed there were no technical issues:

"Flt Lt Townshend was not concentrating while flying and was bored. The camera and side stick have damage to them which is consistent with them coming into contact like they did."

"He disputes putting the camera next to him and knowing the camera was in the position it was while jammed. He says it had fallen from a shelf.

"In a tech log after they landed, he said it was a mechanical issue and suggested there was a very serious issue with the aircraft.

"Days later at two service inquiries, while answering questions under oath, he did not tell the truth. He said the reason for the incident was a technical malfunction."

The court heard 14 passengers were so badly hurt they couldn't fly back to the UK. Flt Lt Nathan Jones, the co-pilot, suffered a cut to the head, a fractured back, a prolapsed disc and nerve damage.

The trial continues. It's expected to last a fortnight.

Cover image courtesy of Sam Wise.

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