A Christmas Day Malaysia Airlines flight has raised eyebrows by flying off in a different direction from where its pilot thought it was heading.
New Zealand media said the plane took off from Auckland for Kuala Lumpur and “headed in the wrong direction”.
Malaysian reports said that eight minutes into the flight, “the pilot of the Airbus A330 asked Auckland air traffic control why the flight had been instructed to head south instead of north to its destination Kuala Lumpur”.
The pilot didn’t discover the anomaly until eight minutes off the ground, when he questioned the direction the plane was headed, reports said. The plane was flying further south than he had expected.
The reports evoked eerie comparisons with earlier tragic incidents involving the same airline, but the truth turned out to be simpler and less alarming.
Routes are generally decided by the airline, depending on prevailing winds and other factors. A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Airways traffic control system told Fairfax media that “the flight path the airline filed us was going to Kuala Lumpur, but following a slightly different flight plan that the pilot had on board”.
The plane was headed towards Melbourne, rather than taking a more direct route to the Malaysian capital, and the pilot quickly realised that. The two flight paths were shown by the Aviation Herald in the map reproduced here.
Passengers aboard the flight were never in any danger, and despite a British newspaper headline speaking of “terror aboard Malaysia Airlines jet”, there was no terror. It was error rather than terror, and passengers remained unaware of it.
Malaysia Airlines later issued a statement setting the record straight, as follows:
“A flight plan for every flight is generated based on conditions at the time covering issues such as weather, any air traffic notices, route efficiency etc. On December 24th 2015 our flight MH132 from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur was given the latest flight plan by the airline’s Operations Dispatch Centre (ODC) whilst Auckland’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) was inadvertently given an earlier flight plan. Both routes were following an approved flight path and the aircraft had enough fuel for both routes. The safety of both passengers and crew were never compromised at any time. Malaysia Airlines is currently conducting its investigation in the flight plan submission. Safety is of the utmost priority for Malaysia Airlines and it adheres very strictly to all safety procedures and processes”
Written by Peter Needham