'Completely uncontrollable': Pilots praised for wrestling with 'flight from hell'

Hugh Morris
The Air Astana plane was able to land safely after the scare - Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

An Air Astana passenger jet spiralled out of control in the skies above Portugal on Sunday as its pilots attempted to wrestle the malfunctioning aircraft to the ground safely.

The flight crew confirmed to Air Traffic Control (ATC) that the Embraer ERJ 190 - capable of carrying 100 passengers - had become “completely uncontrollable” and asked for assistance as it jerked, soared and plunged above Lisbon.

Flight KC1388's flight path Credit: FlightRadar24.com

Air Astana has confirmed that the plane, which had a crew of six on board but no passengers, managed to land safely at Beja Airport, a little-used runway 90 miles from the capital. Two Portuguese F16 fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane - operating as Flight KC1388 - as it descended.

The five-year-old plane’s erratic flight path, as monitored by aircraft-tracking website FlightRadar24, attracted concern from a number of users of social media, who said it must have been “an absolute flight from hell”. Audio recordings of the conversation between the flight deck and ATC reveal the pilot declaring “mayday”, before contemplating “ditching” the aircraft into the sea. At one point the pilot tells the control tower: “Heading to the sea, we need a ditching.”

The ordeal lasted around an hour and half, as the plane pinballed across the sky, gaining and losing altitude sharply. The aircraft’s pilots were praised on social media for landing safely.

Flight-tracking shows the plane's erratic altitude and speed Credit: FlightRadar24.com

“Hats off to the pilots for dealing with what seems like an extreme flight control malfunction,” wrote one.

Another said: “A brilliant job by the pilots under extreme pressure.”

Records showed that the aircraft’s last flight was at the beginning of October, when it was flown to Lisbon, likely for maintenance. Air Astana, the Kazakhstan national carrier, said in a statement that Sunday’s flight was a “ferry flight from the Lisbon Aviation Technical Centre”, adding that “due to technical reasons the crew decided to perform an unplanned landing”.

Lieutenant General Manuel Costa from the Portuguese Air Force confirmed to Associated Press that no one was hurt but that it took more than one attempt to land the plane at Beja.

Air Astana was founded in 2001 and has its headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Its only UK destination is London Heathrow.