The question Are pilots allowed to let passengers fly the plane? is interesting to read, noting that pilots are permitted to allow passengers to fly.

I recall an Air Crash Investigation episode (AFL593) where the pilot pretended to allow his son to manipulate the controls of an airliner, without realising the autopilot had been disconnected, resulting in an accident.

I'm wondering how commonplace this is? Is this an isolated incident?

On the flip-side, I've heard of at least 3 occasions where passengers have successfully landed planes, e.g:

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    $\begingroup$ @fooot Yep, that's the one! $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Apr 8 '14 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if this questions would be more appropriately titled "are passengers allowed to fly commercial flights under the direction of the flight crew?" The title, as it stands, is clearly answered by the question itself. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Apr 8 '14 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ If I'm not mistaken, AFL593 crashed because of a bug in Airbus firmware which disconnected autopilot (without warning the pilot) after 2-3 strong yoke's moves, made by that kid. Kid did not turned off autopilot himself. Father (pilot) let his son to pilot the plane, only because he was 100% certain and sure, that kid will not actually pilot the plane, due to autopilot being engaged. That was the conclusion from mentioned ACI episode. In this case, I wouldn't call AFL593 an example of passenger crashing commercial plane at all. $\endgroup$ – trejder Mar 10 '15 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ @trejder I don't believe that's correct. AFAIK, it was not a bug in firmware, it was an intentional design feature to disconnect the autopilot if the pilot was supplying control inputs that conflicted with the autopilot's (on the theory that the pilot probably knew what they were doing, and they didn't want to do what the A/P wanted to do, so the A/P should yield control). It didn't act like the crew expected, but it acted like it was designed to act. $\endgroup$ – cpast Mar 31 '15 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Do you count hijackings resulting in the hijacker crashing the plane? $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 3 '15 at 1:40

No passengers have crashed an airplane while the pilot was letting them fly.

In this situation, the PIC crashed the plane because he didn't do his job as the captain and final authority for the safe operation of the airplane.

Letting a passenger fly would most likely be listed as a "contributing factor" by investigators looking into an accident where this happened, but responsibility for the crash lies squarely on the PIC.

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    $\begingroup$ 'tis a fine mincing of words, worthy of the most gourmet attorney -- yet it is also correct (in so far as the FAA, NTSB, and Insurance company are concerned) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Apr 8 '14 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is noteworthy, but doesn't actually touch on the question itself. $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Apr 8 '14 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, it answers the question in the title! ;-) $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Apr 8 '14 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ At what point does responsibility begin to attach to the person manipulating the controls? Is the PIC fully responsible for the SIC's ability to control the aircraft? If not, is the threshold that the person on the controls was licensed to operate that aircraft in those conditions, or is it something else? $\endgroup$ – cpast Mar 30 '15 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @cpast Yes, the PIC is responsible for taking over control of the aircraft if the SIC is not capable. The PIC is always responsible.... $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 30 '15 at 21:44

There was a passenger who crashed an light aircraft over Bodensee in Austria. Psychological factors were assumed to be the reason the passenger forced the controls forward crashing the plane into the lake. He and the pilot were killed.

Source: Der Standard (in German)


Please see the transcript of Aeroflot 593

Overview: The pilot allowed his 12 year old and 16 year old children into the cockpit to sit in the pilot's seat of an Airbus A310. The older child's actions disconnected the autopilot. All aboard were killed when the crew was unable to recover from an unusual attitude after the autopilot disconnect.

Another possible passenger-caused accident is the death of Thomas J. Stewart and his family in a Eurocopter EC135 in Phoenix. Stewart allowed his 5 year old daughter to sit in his lap during the flight. The NTSB concluded that the daughter kicked the controls and that the pilot's recovery attempt severed the tail. Both Stewart and his daughter were passengers and may have caused the accident with their actions.

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't really an answer to the question. AFL593 is the flight which the question was referring to in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Bret Copeland Apr 8 '14 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ Plus: this answer in inaccurate. See my comment to question itself. $\endgroup$ – trejder Mar 10 '15 at 8:53

I recall an Air Crash Investigation episode

Aeroflot flight 593 Moscow–Hong Kong, Airbus A310-300, Russia, 23 March 1994

where the pilot pretended to allow his son to manipulate the controls of an airliner,

The pilot actually allowed his son to manipulate the flight controls. The A310 has a conventional yoke.

The autopilot was engaged at the time, so small movements of the flight controls had no effect. The pilot pretended to his son that he was in full control.

Large, forceful movements contradicting the autopilot caused the autopilot to relinquish control to the pilot (the autopilot assumes the pilot knows best) - in this case, control over ailerons (but not over pitch, airspeed, altitude, throttles etc).

Pilots are not dropped into new aircraft without training to understand how use of the controls affect the autopilot. The pilot's actions were reckless and he failed to monitor the childs actions and their effects.

enter image description here
A310 cockpit - Image source

without realising the autopilot had been disconnected

The appropriate indicator light illuminated to show that there was manual control over ailerons but it seems the pilot was too busy entertaining his child to pay proper attention to flying the aircraft.

The "cavalry charge" audio alert only occurs when the autopilot is fully disengaged.

lights on the instrument panel show what aspects of flight the autopilot is controlling.

It was actually the child who first noticed that the aircraft was banking!

resulting in an accident.

In combination with inappropriate actions by panicing pilots.

Despite the struggles of both pilots to save the aircraft, it was later concluded that if they had just let go of the control column, the autopilot would have automatically taken action to prevent stalling, thus avoiding the accident.[11]


I'm wondering how commonplace this is?

It seems to be very uncommon for children and/or other passengers to enter the cockpit midflight and cause a crash.

Is this an isolated incident?

No. See dawg's answer. It may be the only case on an Airbus.

  • $\begingroup$ IMHO this incident is more about the obtuse complexities of the autopilot than the kid. I am stunned to think the pilot let the aircraft get out of normal flight parameters like that. In my day if the autopilot did anything unexpected it was disconnected immediately. We never let the autopilot "take us for a ride." Or, conversely, assume that is would save me from the other pilot. $\endgroup$ – radarbob Oct 3 '15 at 23:34

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