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Coffee Spill in Cockpit Diverts Flight

Report suggests using a lid or a cup holder next time
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2019 5:31 PM CDT
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A pilot put his cup of coffee on a serving tray; it was then knocked over, with coffee hitting his audio control panel.   (Getty/ThamKC)

(Newser) – It's like spilling coffee in your car—only worse. Coffee spilled onto a control panel forced a flight carrying 326 passengers and 11 crew members from Germany to Mexico to divert to Ireland. Cups of coffee without lids had been brought to the cockpit for the crew, USA Today reports, and the captain put his on his serving tray. The cup was knocked over, soaking the captain's audio control panel, which "became very hot and failed and there was an electrical burning smell in the cockpit," a British agency's report said. The panel on the co-pilot's side began to heat up, and a button started to melt before the panel quit working. The plane then went to Shannon instead of Cancun. No one was hurt, said the report, which added that the smoke cleared, though there was a "residual burning smell." The plane landed safely after dumping fuel over the ocean, per the Irish Times.

An investigation by a British agency found it was the coffee that knocked out the pilot's control panel on the Feb. 6 flight but didn't determine a cause for the failure of the co-pilot's panel. The plane was a Airbus A330-200 series operated by Condor, which is owned by Thomas Cook. The coffee cup findings included recommendations appropriate for cockpits of planes as well as front seats of cars. "A properly secured lid" on the cup might have reduced spillage, the report said, noting that most of the coffee went into the pilot's lap. The airline now requires lids on cups. The plane's manufacturer suggests using the cup holder, but the cups on this flight didn't fit the holders well; they were too small to be removed safely and easily. Beware of serving trays, too, the report said, which seem like "a natural place to put a drink momentarily." But the cups aren't secured and can easily be knocked over, it warned. (Read more cockpit stories.)

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