Mayday (2013) s06e03 Episode Script

Who's Flying the Plane?

NARRATOR: Every time you board a plane, you put your trust in the pilots .
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and every time pilots enter the cockpit, they put their trust in computers.
It's a complicated relationship between man and machine and when it doesn't work perfectly, disaster can strike in an instant.
We're gonna turn over! We didn't know if we were going to live or die.
(SCREAMING) Autopilot! Life-and-death decisions have to be made in a moment.
Confusion can kill passengers and crew.
Flying in today's world is a very complex task.
The pilot's always the last line of defence.
When the worst happens, the question is, who's flying the plane? It's just after 8:30 in the morning in Sanford, Florida.
These student pilots walk out to ground school.
Their topic today - a Cirrus SR20.
MAN: This is one of the newer models.
We can tell just from looking at it because of the lights on the wingtips - called recognition lights or 'recog'.
Every year, dozens of students enrol at the Delta Connection Academy hoping to eventually become pilots with major airlines.
It's called an alternator and it's Their lives - and one day the lives of the passengers they fly - depend on their deep understanding of their airplane.
From this side right here, you can see the propeller governor.
MAN: The majority of our students come to us with zero or very little flight time.
We want to run someone through our entire program and end up placing them with one of the regional carriers.
The wingtips here are called Horner wingtips.
They help to reduce the induced drag.
These flight students are getting started on smaller aircraft.
In the years to come, they will move into large commercial jets boasting the latest in technology.
When you go back to the Wright brothers, they had no automation and everything was by muscle power, other than a small internal combustion engine.
Everything that they did, when they moved the wings, the elevators and the rudders, they did manually.
But in the last 100 years, technology has revolutionised flying.
Pilots share the cockpit with automated computer systems that control virtually every aspect of flight.
It can do everything now up to and including land the airplane.
Everything is set so that autopilots and automation systems are tools for the pilot to use, but they're not a replacement.
It's a critical lesson for student pilots to learn.
Safe flight is a balance between automation and training.
If a pilot makes a mistake or if an instrument malfunctions, these flying computers can turn into lethal machines that can't be controlled.
Lima, Peru.
October 2, 1996.
Aeroperu Flight 603 prepares for take-off for Santiago, Chile.
The plane is a four-year-old Boeing 757, a highly sophisticated jet known for its reliability and safety.
The 757 is flown by two of the national airline's best pilots .
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Captain Eric Schreiber .
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and First Officer David Fernandez.
There are 61 passengers and 9 crew members on board.
The jet is among a new generation of computer-controlled aircraft in which pilots are trained to rely on a central data system that is designed to reduce errors, both mechanical and human.
Gear up.
Tonight, though, within minutes of take-off, the flight begins to go horribly wrong.
(ALARM BEEPS) The altimeters are static.
The altimeter indicates how high the aircraft is flying over the ground.
It reads zero but the plane is clearly airborne.
This is really new.
Keep V2 plus 10.
The 757 is equipped with three altimeters .
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one for the pilot, one for the copilot and one for backup.
All three seem to be dead.
As the two men try to solve the first problem, they lose another crucial instrument - the airspeed indicator.
The speed.
- Eh? - The speed.
What's going on? We're not climbing.
No, I AM climbing, but the speed Hold it.
Maintain speed.
Bewildered by the host of confusing warnings, Captain Schreiber decides to land.
(ALARMS WAIL) - Lima Tower, Aeroperu 603.
- We are in an emergency.
- Aeroperu 603, Lima.
- We are declaring an emergency.
We have no basic instruments, no altimeter, no airspeed indicator.
Declaring emergency.
To add to their problems, Schreiber and Fernandez are flying at night over water with no visual reference points.
Not being able to trust their instruments, the pilots are flying blind.
MAN: The airplane was controllable.
But you first have to diagnose what's wrong and it's very easy from 20/20 hindsight sitting in a chair on a nice sunny day to say, "This is what he should've done.
" But in the cold, dark night with bells and whistles going off, it's very difficult to analyse conflicting information that you're getting.
(ALARMS WAIL) Unable to trust their instruments, the pilots have to depend on information from the ground.
Can you get to see airspeed, please, if you have us on the radar? MAN: (OVER RADIO) Yes.
Affirmative.
As of 10 seconds, it seems that you're climbing at level 6,000, at 22 miles south on heading 195.
OK, we have that.
We are on heading 190 and we have 7,000 feet on the altimeter.
Yes, correct.
You are now reaching 7,000.
Even as they try to return to the airport, the havoc in the cockpit gets worse.
Systems warn that they're over speed.
Over speed! - They're flying too fast.
- Extend the speed brakes.
- (BEEPING) - Now the stall warning sounds.
- And then - ELECTRONIC VOICE: Too low - terrain.
- What's happening? - Too low - terrain? We have the terrain alarm.
We have the terrain alarm.
The ground proximity alarm warns them that they're flying dangerously low.
MAN: Indicate a flight level of 10,000 over the sea.
ELECTRONIC VOICE: Too low - terrain.
Too low - terrain.
RODRIGUEZ: There is no checklist for if you have these seven or eight warnings going off, which they did, and they couldn't shut 'em off.
(OVER RADIO) Altitude is 9,700.
- 9,700?! - Yes.
Correct.
- Do you have any visual reference? - 9,700?! But it is indicating too low - terrain! Are you sure you have us on the radar at 50 miles? Hey, look! The crew is bombarded with conflicting warnings.
They have no idea which of them to believe.
Suddenly they realise the horrible truth.
We're hitting water.
Pull it up! They're flying just metres above the water.
We're gonna turn over! Aeroperu 603.
Lima.
(HELICOPTER WHIRRS) There are no survivors from Flight 603, all because something caused the onboard computers to go haywire.
Searching through the Pacific waters, investigators manage to find the data recorders.
It was clear to us that they were really experiencing a problem with airspeed and altitude.
On the 757, devices called pito-static tubes measure the airspeed and altitude.
They're small external sensors which relay that information to the plane's computerised systems.
Deep underwater, tape is discovered covering the plane's sensors.
How the tape got there leads investigators back to the maintenance crew at Lima Airport.
Just before Aeroperu 603 lifted off from Lima, maintenance workers had cleaned the jet.
A worker had covered the static ports with tape to protect them.
This is standard procedure.
But when the maintenance was complete, the worker forgot to remove the tape.
It was a small oversight with tragic results.
The inspector who was supposed to quality-check his work did not do it.
And the supervisor out on the line that night was not there.
He was sick, and there was a regular mechanic who was filling that role.
He did not see it.
In this case, the captain did the preflight.
They do a walk-around, looking for just that kind of thing.
The captain did the preflight that night and he did not detect it either.
Yes, correct.
You are now reaching 7,000.
The blocked tubes also explain why the air traffic controllers told the crew they were flying at 7,000 feet.
(ALARMS WAIL) The information on the plane's height isn't calculated by radar on the ground, but by the plane's onboard systems.
From 7,000 feet, the plane began to slowly descend but the onboard systems couldn't detect it.
And the air traffic controller had no way to know the altitude indicated on his system was wrong.
North 3-6-0.
Blindsided by bewildering readings from their instruments, the crew was completely lost.
They had no idea where they were, how high they were flying, or how fast they were going.
We're hitting water! Pull it up! Climb! Climb, Aeroperu 603.
If you need to, pull up.
Aeroperu was a deadly lesson about how dependent pilots have become on their automated flight systems, and how helpless they can be when the systems are crippled.
Student pilots need to understand the complex technology at the heart of their airplanes.
When something goes wrong, they need to know who's in control.
Because even an experienced pilot can rely too heavily on his systems .
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and when he does, disaster can be just seconds away.
Right, gentlemen, what we're going to do today is practise rejected take-offs in preparation for the V1 cuts.
It'll be engine fire, engine failure or loss of directional control.
At the Delta Connection Flight School in Sanford, Florida, students are facing the worst in the safety of a simulator.
No pilot can graduate unless they can deal with problems they may never have to face in the real world.
The course that I teach would typically be, they work as a crew and they'll get 26 hours in the simulator, 13 hours in each seat.
Simulation can now introduce problems that are hard to introduce in the air.
Doing it with simulation allows it to be repeated and then if you are ever faced with the emergency, it becomes almost a matter of routine.
Alright, connection 500, you're clear for take-off.
Clear for take-off.
Runway 4.
Location 500.
Right after take-off, the students are faced with an emergency.
We've got a left engine oil pressure.
When you get one of those warnings, don't just punch it out.
Go ahead and acknowledge it so both pilots are in the loop.
- You're both on the same page.
- Alright.
You got a left engine oil pressure.
Handle flight controls.
They run through the drill again and again because surviving in the air depends on getting it right in the simulator.
In an actual cockpit, even a small inconvenience can escalate into a desperate struggle to save the airplane.
February 19, 1985.
China Airlines Flight 006 is tumbling through the sky.
No response, Captain! (GROANS) Airspeed 80 knots and falling.
- One of the engines has failed.
- No response! Their instruments seem to be making no sense.
People just popped up like popcorn, hitting the cabin.
We didn't know if we were going to live or die.
The 747 falls more than 10km in two minutes.
The pilots can barely keep it airborne.
MAN: You know this airplane is totally out of control.
It is going to crash.
The jet nosedives towards the Pacific Ocean.
Then, just moments away from impact, the crew regains control of the plane.
Oakland Center.
Dynasty 006.
We are declaring an emergency.
Dynasty 006.
Oakland Center.
You are now cleared.
You are free to descend at pilot's discretion.
After surviving a tremendous fall, Captain Min-Yuan Ho makes a smooth textbook landing.
(ALL CHEER, LAUGH) CANIYO: I thought he was a hero.
He saved our lives.
We thought he was a hero and everything was fine.
Two dozen passengers have suffered minor injuries.
One crew member is hospitalised and soon released.
But the 747 looks like it's been through a war zone.
MAN: Parts of the entire tailplane at the end were ripped off, as though a tornado had come through or a crane had been in and ripped pieces out of it.
Investigators soon realise the damage to the plane wasn't the cause of the problems but had actually occurred during the plane's wild plunge.
They pore through maintenance records and flight logs to try to determine the cause of the near-fatal incident.
Inside the plane, investigators find a worn valve.
It led directly to the failure of the jet's fourth engine.
But this shouldn't have caused the plane to fall through the sky.
Engine 4 flamed out.
The loss of thrust on a four-engine airplane is a minor event.
It's an event, you have to take care of it but the airplane will fly on three engines with no difficulty.
I do not think I was fatigued.
The captain tells investigators that while the crew was dealing with the faulty engine, he left the autopilot in control of the plane.
But on this 747, the autopilot does not control the rudder.
Autopilots are set to maintain stable flight.
If something goes wrong, the system tries to respond.
With more engine power on the left wing, the China Airlines jet began turning right.
The autopilot reacted by using the plane's ailerons to try to keep the 747 flying straight.
But the ailerons weren't up to the job.
The jet kept turning.
In order to keep it from turning to the right, the proper thing to do would've been to step on the rudder.
Now, it's possible that he'd forgotten that the autopilot didn't use the rudder.
He may have been assuming all along that the autopilot was just flying the airplane the way a human being would have, which it wasn't.
Focused on his malfunctioning engine, Captain Ho left the autopilot in control.
But without the help of the rudder, the ailerons were losing their battle to keep the plane level.
The gentle turn got steeper.
The airplane started to lose speed and in the end it was really that little error of airmanship, the failure to step on that left rudder pedal, that triggered everything else.
We're banking right, Captain.
Airspeed 230.
Facing mounting problems, the captain finally takes complete control of his aircraft.
- We're bending right, Captain.
- I'm disengaging autopilot.
(GROANING, SCREAMING) When the autopilot snaps off, his situation only gets worse.
Without the ailerons to control the jet's bank, the plane flips over.
It plunges into thick clouds and Captain Ho is unable to get his bearings.
(SCREAMING) The crew has no visual reference point.
They have no idea which way is up.
They're totally dependent on their attitude indicators but they don't think they're working properly.
- I've lost ADI.
- The ADIs have malfunctioned.
It's going out of limits! But the instruments had not malfunctioned.
They told the crew an unbelievable truth - they were falling towards the Pacific Ocean.
MAN: They simply didn't believe what they were seeing and they thought they had lost their attitude instruments.
They hadn't lost their attitude instruments.
The airplane was in fact embarking on an aerobatic manoeuvre.
You can see the stewardesses, all these people who didn't have their seatbelt on, they were flying.
It's only when the plane finally breaks free of the clouds that Captain Ho is able to regain control of his plane I can see the horizon.
.
.
because he now has a visual reference.
By the time Captain Ho takes full control, it was almost too late.
The near-fatal dive highlights the need for pilots to avoid relying too much on their computers.
So what automation has done, in a sense, is taken pilots and taken them from being hands-on kind of controllers of the machine to monitors of what the automation is doing to the machine.
You really are just sitting there with your arms folded and this goes on for hour after hour after hour and, understandably, people become stupefied.
But whatever mistakes the flight crew made, they did succeed in their ultimate task.
The one big thing they did right is they saved the airplane and in principle, that's all you ever need to do right.
You need to save the airplane and you need to save the passengers and that's what they did.
Student pilots practise emergencies again and again to ensure that when disaster strikes, they handle it correctly.
Automation is an enormous aid to long-distance flying but if a crew doesn't fully understand how their plane works, they can quickly get into a situation from which they cannot escape.
- Autopilot engaged? - Autopilot engaged.
10 years after the China Airlines mishap, another crew is baffled by a more complicated autopilot and fails to take control until it's too late.
March 1994.
Siberia.
Search parties comb through the wreckage of Russian International Airlines Flight 593.
All 75 people on board are dead.
The plane was one of the newest in the fleet, a European-built Airbus A310.
Listening to the cockpit voices, investigators are shocked by what they hear.
BOY: I am turning it back! MAN: OK, get out.
The ground is right there! Children's voices in the cockpit.
They are stunned when they realise these children had operated the flight controls.
The children were the son and daughter of the pilot on command, Captain Yaroslav Kudrinsky.
Investigators begin to piece together an almost unbelievable story.
On the evening of March 22, 1994, Flight 593 begins its scheduled 10-hour journey to Hong Kong.
I think it's gonna be a nice trip.
Several hours into the jet's flight, the aircraft is cruising on autopilot.
On board are two children taking their first international flight - Yana and Eldar Kudrinsky.
A family friend and fellow pilot brings the children in to see their father.
Hi, Dad.
- This is the first officer.
- Hello! It's the beginning of a deadly chain of events.
So what do you think of our new airplane? It's very nice.
It's amazing! Flight 593 is now over 2,000 miles east of Moscow, near the middle of Siberia.
Secure in the knowledge that the autopilot is flying the plane, Captain Kudrinsky allows his children to sit in the pilot's seat and hold the controls.
Unlike the China Airlines 747, the more sophisticated autopilot on this jet can control every part of the plane, including the rudder.
Eldar's small pressure on the controls actually turns off part of the autopilot.
Eldar is now manually controlling the jet's ailerons.
Imperceptibly at first, the plane begins to bank.
No-one in the cockpit responds to the gradual change in direction, and the very design of the plane hides the fact that the jet is on the brink of disaster.
Yes, it is.
(SPEAKS RUSSIAN) TRANSLATION: Another peculiarity of the plane is that it has no alarm signalling the disengaging of the autopilot in the channels .
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while our Russian planes have an alarm sounding in such an event.
The autopilot is still controlling the planes other functions.
Only the ailerons are in Eldar's hands but it's enough to affect the plane's flight.
Moments later, the Airbus is banking at 45 degrees.
The force of the turn pushes everyone into their seats.
Guys! The increased G-force makes it difficult to reach the controls.
Hold it.
Hold the control column.
Eldar is the only one with both hands on the controls.
KUDRINSKY: To the left! The speed of the turn is pushing him back in his seat.
- The other way! - Turn it to the left.
- I am turning it left! - OK, get out! But Eldar can't leave.
His body feels twice its normal weight.
(ALARM BEEPS) Suddenly, an alarm sounds.
The autopilot is shutting down.
When the jet reaches such an extreme position, the autopilot is designed to completely disengage.
It's a safety feature to put the pilot back in complete control.
But in this case, a teenager is in the captain's seat.
The plane begins to dive towards the ground.
Get it to the left! There's the ground! The plane dives at an incredible speed, plunging over 200m per second.
For the passengers, it's like having an elevator suddenly fall out from under them.
(SCREAMING) Get out! Get out! Captain Kudrinsky fights his way back to the pilot's seat.
But it's too late to save Flight 593.
As in the China Airlines incident almost a decade before, the Russian crew was confused by their automation.
But in this case, they couldn't regain control until it was too late.
The accident began not with a mechanical problem, but with a simple decision made by a very experienced pilot.
I've never heard of anything like that before or since.
It was very unprofessional on the part of the captain.
The first officer also bears some responsibility for not raising major objections immediately.
To allow someone unqualified to sit in the seat of a commercial airliner is unthinkable.
The crew's mistake was compounded because they didn't fully understand the computerised systems.
We've gone into a zone, a holding pattern.
10 years later, another experienced pilot gets confused by his instruments.
What? And this time the situation is complicated by a common sensation pilots are trained to ignore.
Paul Mauro is an instructor at the Delta Connection Academy in Florida.
His job is to put students in extremely uncomfortable situations and then get them to land safely.
Upset recovery is where we take a student or any pilot and we try to get them the ability to recover their aircraft from an unusual attitude or an upset, such as weak turbulence, windshear, unintentional stall.
We're gonna do a low-level pass and bring it right down to the edge of the runway and then, just about halfway down, we're gonna break up and demonstrate how quickly we can get the aircraft into a nose-high situation.
At that point, we're experiencing in that first portion of the pull-up, we're experiencing the max G-load in that turn.
We're hitting just about 6, 6.
5 G's for that pull.
At 6 G's, you're experiencing 6 times your body weight.
I weight 200 pounds, so 6 times that, at that point, I'd feel like I weigh 1,200 pounds to my body.
Feels like I'm being squeezed completely all over my entire body.
It feels like your face is kind of peeling down over you and once you get used to it, it's kinda fun.
In a tightly controlled situation, with an instructor in the next seat .
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a student pilot learns to cope with intense physical sensations that can disorient and confuse.
Pilots have to overcome these sensations and even ignore them.
Trusting what your body is telling you can have deadly results.
January 3, 2004.
A Flash Airlines charter flight is preparing to depart from the popular tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
148 people are on board.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of Captain Khadr and his entire crew, we welcome you on board Flash Airlines Boeing 737-300.
The captain is 53-year-old Khadr Abdullah, a former officer in the Egyptian Air Force.
He has over 7,000 hours flying experience.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Clouds and sky - clear.
QNH 1013.
In the darkness before dawn, Captain Khadr and his crew execute a smooth take-off.
Flying manually, they haven't yet engaged the plane's autopilot.
But while still climbing, the flight plan is already beginning to fall apart.
- Turning right, sir.
- What? - Aircraft is turning right.
- Turning right? How turning right? - Autobank.
- Autopilot.
Autopilot's in command.
Autopilot.
Autopilot! Cue autopilot, Commander.
(SCREAMING) (GRUNTS) Oh, my God! (GRUNTS) (SCREAMING) (BEEPING) In the morning light, investigators find no-one has survived the horrific accident.
The plane had just taken off and it looked very strange why this accident happened so quickly after take-off.
French and American investigators join Egyptian authorities in the search.
It takes two weeks just to find and recover the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.
Investigators explore dozens of possibilities, including the idea the crash was caused by vertigo.
Vertigo is a physiological condition and it's based on the inner ear.
Over a dark ocean without a defined visual horizon, no ground lights, the pilot may not be able to perceive visually whether he was flying up, down, left or right, and if the fluid in his inner ear was moving or he tilted his head, that may induce a sensation - a physiological sensation - that may cause the pilot to believe the airplane is flying straight and level when it's actually turning.
Roger.
When ready.
Left turn to establish 306.
As the plane banked over the Red Sea, it slowly began going off course.
But the pilot says nothing.
It seems that he's unaware of the changes to his flight path.
It is actually a very high workload situation and when there are no visual cues outside because it's a moonless night and you're over featureless territory with no lights in it, you really, as a professional pilot, should be totally aware of the fact that this is a situation in which you could get disorientated.
Precisely what the captain perceived is unknown.
What is known is that his control wheel slowly inched towards the right.
- Turning right, sir.
- What? - Aircraft is turning right.
- How turning right? In this particular instance, not only are you trying to fly the airplane and understand situationally what's happening, but you're going through the mental gymnastics because your expectations are one way, meanwhile you have the first officer who's telling him something that's totally different.
Even with all the conflicting information he was getting, investigators discover that Captain Khadr almost recovered control of his plane.
It is interesting that recovery starts as the airplane turns towards the coastline.
The lights on the shore would've given the pilots a clear and unmistakable view of the aircraft's attitude.
This is the moment that the disorientation disappears and this is the moment that the recovery begins.
Sadly, there isn't enough time to save the aircraft.
The tragic fact remains that Captain Khadr had all the information he needed to save the right in front of him.
The thing that is important when you're experiencing spatial disorientation or vertigo is to put absolute implicit trust in your instruments that they are telling you the truth and that whatever your sensation is is a limitation of human beings.
Trust the instruments.
It's a lesson that's hammered home every day at the Delta Connection Academy.
Brian Patrycia is one of dozens of students here who wants to fly commercial passenger jets.
It's a goal that's still years away.
It should take me between five to six years at a regional airline before I move on to the major airlines.
It's a typical journey.
Senior crew members for international carriers often have thousands of hours of flying under their belt.
But each one of them started with none.
There's a very old saying that as soon as you feel like you're no longer learning with aviation, get out of it because it's gonna hurt you.
Training is ongoing.
Recurrent training is an integral part of safe flying.
The reason we have the safe level of flight that we do today is in very large part because of the adequacy and completeness of the training.
Relying on your instruments, trusting your automation is one of the most fundamental lessons of flight training.
On.
Insert the ignition key.
Clear the propeller area and then start the engine.
Every safe flight, from small planes to jumbo jets, depends on pilot and plane working together.
But even if a jet's technology is crippled, modern planes are so well built, pilots can still bring them safely down.
August 24, 2001.
Air Transat Flight 236 is carrying 306 passengers and crew.
Bound for Portugal, the airbus is in serious trouble high above the Atlantic Ocean.
You could literally hear a pin drop.
The exterior, there was no sound in that plane, in that cabin at all.
The airplane is so silent because it's run out of fuel.
A state-of-the-art jet is now a very heavy glider.
Functions we've lost.
- We have no rear stabilisers.
- Blue and yellow hydraulics.
No ADR 2 and 3.
No reversers.
The technology that normally keeps planes flying has deserted the crew.
The jet is 10km in the sky without the most essential instruments.
Captain Robert Piche and copilot Dirk De Jager have to find a way to get it safely back to earth.
For the first four hours of their journey from Canada to Portugal, the flight is unremarkable.
We're getting to our next checkpoint.
Every 30 minutes across the Atlantic, the crew have checked their position and their fuel consumption against their flight plan.
11.
2 tons on the right.
11.
2 tons on the left.
Despite the computerised systems, some procedures, like checking the fuel onboard, are done by hand.
Fuel check complete.
Levels normal for the distance flown.
Great.
But then, a small alarm breaks the air of routine in the cockpit.
(BEEP!) Look.
We're getting a warning signal.
Oil temp low and oil pressure high on number 2.
The computer display shows that the oil temperature is low in engine number 2.
But it also shows that the oil pressure is high.
LYNCH: A low oil temperature indication is normally indicative of bad readings and a bad sensor.
Oil temperatures don't decrease, normally - they increase.
A low oil temperature would be of no concern.
The high oil pressure is a very strange indication.
It's very rare.
In fact, I've never actually heard of one.
The oil readings are so unusual, the pilots believe they might indicate a computer error.
But captain and first officer keep monitoring the oil levels.
(BEEP!) 30 minutes after the first alarm goes off, another warning sounds inside the airbus.
Fuel imbalance warning.
Haven't seen that before.
Follow our lead connection.
I have air traffic control.
In the Airbus 330, most of the fuel is contained in large tanks on the wings.
The computer had detected that the fuel level on the right is significantly lower than the level on the left.
The flight manual recommends transferring fuel through a special crossfeed valve.
Fuel will then flow from one tank to the other.
LYNCH: Once you begin the crossfeeding procedure to correct a fuel imbalance, restorative action should commence quite quickly.
In other words, the situation would not continue to get worse.
Even though the crew is following proper procedures, the situation does get worse.
Fuel quantity isn't rising in the tanks for the right wing.
- Check fuel quantity.
- It's very low.
Hold on.
That's much less fuel than we should have.
It looks like a fuel leak.
Check again.
The systems monitor hundreds and hundreds of sensors.
And, you know, they can be affected by such mundane things as a little bit of frost or ice on the sensor can cause it to present bad data.
But in fact the reading is accurate.
There's a serious leak in one of the engines and Piche has been transferring precious fuel into the leaking tank.
The fact is confirmed when copilot De Jager completes another fuel check.
According to all the gauges, all the tanks on the right wing are way below the level they should be.
According to the flight plan, there's hardly anything in the other ones.
- What about the trim tank? - There's nothing there either.
With every passing second, the leak drains the tanks of their remaining fuel until finally, the jet is running on empty.
(ALARM BEEPS) We're losing engine number 2.
I don't believe this.
OK.
Maximum thrust on number 1.
What's going on? Try to transfer fuel from centre tank into trim tank.
Transferring.
Fuel quantities reaching zero.
This can't be happening.
We're not gonna go completely dry on this (BLEEP) airplane.
But in fact the Air Transat has run out of fuel some 12,000 metres over the Atlantic Ocean.
No fuel means no power to control the plane.
But the jet has one last trick up its sleeve, one last source of power.
The crew deploys a rarely-used backup system.
LYNCH: It's called the ram air turbine.
It will deploy from underneath the fuselage near the wing fairing and it's a small propeller that deploys out the bottom of the fuselage and it spins in the wind.
And that small propeller will provide very limited electrical and hydraulic systems to run the aircraft.
In other words, although it's a glider, at least it's a controllable glider.
When it took off, this Air Transat jet was a state-of-the-art marvel.
Now it's falling from the sky and the crew has to hope this last piece of technology will help them get down in one piece.
A passenger plane has run out of fuel.
The Air Transat jet is now an enormous glider with more than 300 people onboard.
The crew have diverted their flight from its destination in Portugal.
The plane is now heading for a military air base on the tiny island of Terceira in the Azores.
I saw flight attendants with life jackets in their hand, running down the aisles.
And obviously, that was a sign of fear.
You know, "What was happening?" was the first question that popped in my mind.
If Captain Robert Piche can't make it to the airport, his only other option is the ocean.
But Piche doesn't want to risk it.
Planes aren't designed to survive landing on water.
In 1996, a Boeing 767 ran out of fuel off the coast of East Africa.
Its last moments were caught on amateur video.
Of the 175 people onboard the Ethiopian Airways jet, only 50 survived.
Without vital controls, Captain Piche and copilot Dirk De Jager have to rely on each other like never before.
The thought that a commercial airliner is gonna find itself out of fuel with all the safeguards and all the redundancies is hard to fathom.
This crew faced it together.
Flight's open locked.
The very design of the plane prevents it from dropping like a stone.
Even without engines, the plane's forward momentum gives it some lift.
It's falling fast, but it's still flying.
Can you give me a landing speed, please? No engine, no flaps.
Ideal approach speed is 170 knots.
We're too fast.
Yes.
But the runway is very long.
But at the end of the runway is a very steep cliff.
Using the power available from the ram air turbine, Captain Piche forces the plane to turn steeply, trying to burn off some speed.
(SIREN WAILS) The plane was almost on a 45-degree angle.
I thought it was just gonna was just gonna flip over and just nosedive straight down.
WOMAN: Everybody, I need you to brace.
(SCREAMING) WOMAN 2: Hang on! The tyres have blown! MAN: Oh, my God! After bursting eight tyres, the plane finally stops in the middle of the runway.
Everyone onboard survives.
(APPLAUSE, CHEERING) He got that plane down safely.
Only blew out 8 of the 12 tyres and saved 300 people.
He saved 300 people's lives.
Piche and De Jager have flown their airbus without power further than any passenger jet in history.
News of their remarkable achievement spreads around the world.
You don't have time really to think about anything else than taking care of the safety of your passenger, you know? That's your main goal.
Since we didn't have any engine, the only main goal was to make the landing safely.
So at that time, I guess the experience came in.
Investigators discover that the leak onboard the jet had been set in motion when the right engine had been replaced five days before the crash.
We have to realise that there was a small mistake made in terms of changing the pump.
We installed it but then some pipes, so to speak, were needed to be connected to the pump and there was a mismatch.
The small mistake had crippled this highly engineered machine.
But its very design left the pilots enough control to steer the plane away from disaster.
At the Delta Connection Academy in Sanford, Florida another student has earned his wings.
After 14 months of training, he's one step closer to becoming a commercial pilot.
We don't take everybody here at the academy.
We want people that are motivated, that want to come, that have a passion for flying.
It's a career that you've got to want deep inside to accomplish, otherwise you'll never make it through.
Accidents have reinforced the need for pilots to understand the complicated relationship between crew and computers.
The lives of countless people depend on it.
Pilots take the responsibility for their passengers very, very, very seriously.
We're responsible from the time the passenger enters the airplane until they leave at the destination.
The pilot's always the last line of defence.
Automated systems make flying more predictable and dependable.
But it's the marriage of computers and crew that ultimately makes flying one of the safest ways to travel.