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Smoke and burning from spilled coffee in cockpit forces transatlantic flight to divert to Ireland

A passenger aircraft on a transatlantic flight with 337 people on board was forced to divert to Ireland after the pilot spilled coffee on the controls panel, UK investigators say.

The plane, which was flying from Frankfurt, Germany, to the Mexican beach resort of Cancun, had to divert to Shannon airport when the hot drink spilt onto the captain’s audio control panel (ACP).

The ACP is part of the onboard communication system which allows flight crew to send and receive radio signals.

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According to the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), the flight crew were typically served coffee without lids on that route.

As a result of the spillage, the captain’s ACP failed, and started to produce a burning smell and smoke in the cockpit.

An hour later, the co-pilot’s ACP also failed when it became hot enough to melt one of the buttons. 

The ACP failure meant the pilots could not speak to each other and the captain could only hear transmissions through the co-pilot’s speakers.

As a result, when the flight was mid-way between Ireland and Canada the decision was made to turn back and land at Shannon. During the diversion, both pilots required the use of extra oxygen.

The fumes did not injure any of the 326 passengers onboard the Airbus 330 aircraft and the plane landed safely, the report said.

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Upon landing, the two ACPs were removed and concluded to have suffered liquid contamination.

As a result of the incident, the airline now requires all drinks to be served with lids, and it reminded flight crew to be careful handling liquids in the cockpit.

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