Airplane came within 6ft of crashing while landing in Paris

Airliner was just SIX FEET from smashing into the ground outside Paris when French controller speaking English gave pilots incorrect landing details

  • Norwegian Air Sweden flight landing in Paris on May 23 when incident happened
  • Air traffic controller – French native but speaking in English – gave pilots wrong information when they were setting up their instruments for the landing 
  • Meant plane was actually 280ft lower than on-board computer was telling them
  • Pilots – landing in heavy cloud using only instruments – sensed something was wrong and pulled up when aircraft was just 6ft from the ground 

A plane carrying 180 people came within just six feet of slamming into a field near Paris when air traffic controllers gave pilots wrong instructions, it has been revealed. 

Pilots of the Norwegian Air Sweden flight, from Stockholm to Charles de Gaulle airport, were landing in heavy cloud using only their cockpit instruments when the incident happened on May 23.

A French tower worker, speaking to them in English, had given them an incorrect reading as they set up the instruments – meaning the plane was actually 280ft closer to the ground than the on-board computer was telling them.

Fortunately, pilots decided to abandon the landing after failing to see lights on the runway. Unbeknownst to them, they were just 6ft off the ground at the time.

A Norwegian Air Sweden plane trying to land in heavy cloud and rain in Paris back in May came within 6ft of crashing into the ground, it has been revealed (file image)

The incident – which has only just been revealed by BEA, the French air accident investigator – took place on May 23 around 11.40am local time.

Flight NSZ4311 – an Airbus A320 – was flying from Stockholm Arlanda airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle and coming in for landing when the near-miss happened.

An air traffic controller – who was a French native but speaking to the pilots in English – gave them instructions for landing around 11.30am when they were around 5,000ft off the ground.

But, while reading the instructions, the controller accidentally gave them an incorrect ‘QNH’ reading.

The QNH tells the plane where sea level is, which allows the on-board altimeter to calculate how far off the ground the plane is.

Instead of telling the pilots the correct reading – 1001 – the controller told them 1011.

It meant that, from that moment onwards, the plane was actually flying 280ft below the reading on the altimeter.

Pilots then attempted to land in heavy cloud and driving rain, meaning they could not see the ground and were relying on instruments to guide them.

Ten minutes after the incorrect reading was given, while the pilots thought they were 300ft off the ground, they could still not see landing lights for the runway.

In fact, they were just a few feet off the ground and could not see the lights because the runway was a mile away ahead of them.

Sensing something was wrong, the pilots abandoned the landing and decided to perform a go-around.

At the same time, the tower radioed to say an altitude warning signal had gone off and to check whether they were in trouble.

The pilots responded that they heard no warning signal, but had never-the-less had decided to abandon the landing.

When the captain pulled the airplane out of the landing, equipment showed it was just 6ft off the ground instead of 286ft the pilots were being shown.

The plane went around for another attempt but, incredibly, the error from the first landing wasn’t corrected, meaning the altimeter was still wrong.

Luckily, the cloud cleared enough for pilots to catch sight of the runway during the second landing – at which point they corrected course and landed safely.

Air investigators found the same tower controller had given a similar incorrect reading to an incoming EasyJet flight around the same time as the Norwegian one – whilst also speaking in English.

But in that case, the pilot had mis-heard the reading and given the correct one back, which wasn’t noticed by the tower.

The same controller, speaking this time in French, had given a third plane the correct QNH reading.

Investigators recommended that the air traffic services ‘ensure without delay that controllers are aware of the importance’ of giving the correct altimeter settings.

They also urged airlines to tighten their procedures for double-checking the readings that are being given. 

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