An interim report by the UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) has confirmed the obstruction of the digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera as a vital factor responsible for the incident that led to grounding of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Voyager transport aircraft fleet last month.
The Voyager ZZ333 plummeted 4,400ft in 27 seconds, registering a maximum rate-of-descent of 15,000ft/min, leaving some of the passengers with minor injuries, during a non-stop flight between RAF Brize Norton, UK, and Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, on 09 February.
A total of nine crew members and 189 passengers were onboard the plane, which was subsequently diverted to Incirlik air base in Turkey, without further incident.
The report said the pitch down command was due to an inadvertent physical input to the Captain’s side-stick through a hitch in the form of a Digital SLR camera between the arm-rest and the side stick-unit.
"Analysis of the camera has confirmed that it was being used in the three minutes leading up to the event," the report noted.
"Furthermore, forensic analysis of damage to the body of the camera indicates that it experienced a significant compression against the base of the side-stick, consistent with having been jammed between the arm rest and the side-stick unit."
Expressing confidence that the cause of the event was "human factors", the MAA, however, noted that the service inquiry will continue into the incident and "post-occurrence management of the event", to help identify any relevant lessons that may boost air safety.
The seven Voyager tanker transports have already resumed flying operations, soon after the temporary grounding order was lifted on 21 February.
A derivative of Airbus Military’s A330 MRTT aircraft, the Voyager is expected to assume majority of the UK’s military passenger transport and all in-flight refuelling duties, following retirement of RAF’s existing Lockheed TriStar planes later this month.
Image: The Voyager military transport aircraft of the UK Royal Air Force. Photo: courtesy of AirTanker.