Pilot of 'nosediving' Qantas plane says he was not in control of the aircraft

The pilot behind the infamous Qantas flight QF72, which nosedived towards the Indian Ocean, has revealed he wasn’t in control of the plane.

Pilot Kevin Sullivan was in the cockpit of the A330 in October, 2008. He’s told Air Crash Investigation on Foxtel’s National Geographic that the plane left the Singapore’s Changi Airport without incident as it headed for Perth before making two nosedives, injuring passengers and leaving many on board fearing they were going to die.

As the plane fell from the sky, passengers were thrown about while the pilots struggled to stay in their seat despite wearing safety harnesses.

QF72 pilot Kevin Sullivan. Source: National Geographic

Mr Sullivan said he tried a control stick to stop the plane from crashing into the ocean but nothing happened.

“I’m thinking, OK, I’m not in control of this plane,” he told the program. 

“I’m confused, why is it doing this? Because it’s not me doing it. It’s the aircraft doing it.”

The pilot tried the stick again and the plane stopped diving but the terror was far from over as the plane began to tumble again.

Damage from inside QF72. Source: ATSB

Mr Sullivan said the control input locked up again. He looked at the Indian Ocean closing in as the plane fell 120 metres and thought a crash was imminent.

The pilot managed to regain control of the aircraft but didn’t know if the plane was going to begin to drop again. Crew made a mayday call, landed the plane at Learmonth airport in WA.

QF72’s sudden drop from the sky was investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The documentary said it was a long and frustrating investigation, but it was eventually found one of the plane’s air data units was overwriting the pilot’s actions.

Paramedics attend to an injured passenger from QF72. Source: Getty Images

The data unit incorrectly confused data and sent the plane into a dive.

Mr Sullivan told Fairfax in 2017, the plane believed it was travelling 50 degrees above the horizon, or upward, and self-corrected itself by bringing the nose downward.

Experts still don’t know why this is but software changes mean hopefully it never happens again.

Many were left injured after he plane plummeted – some thrown about and hitting the ceiling. Source: ATSB