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Pilot in court over emergency landing

Published on 04/05/2004

4 May 2004

HANOVER – A pilot who was regarded by passengers as a hero when he successfully landed a stricken Airbus A310 is facing the prospect of a prison sentence as a result of the incident.

Wolfgang Arminger, 59, appeared Tuesday at a court in Hanover on a charge of “dangerous encroachment of air traffic” in connection with the emergency landing of the plane in Vienna almost four years ago.

If convicted he could face a jail term of between six months and 10 years.

Arminger was piloting a Germany Hapag-Lloyd charter plane carrying German holidaymakers from Crete to Hanover on 12 July 2000 when both the aircraft’s engines stopped owing to a fuel shortage.

Without any engine performance, Arminger managed to glide the last 20 kilometres to Vienna’s Schwechat airport, making an emergency landing next to the runway which resulted in one engine and a wing being ripped off.

Passengers were evacuated using emergency chutes, with 13 of the 151 people on board being treated for minor injuries in hospital.

Prosecutors allege the pilot put passengers and crew at risk after the aircraft’s landing gear failed to retract after take-off.

As a result of extra drag from the landing gear, the plane was consuming extra fuel, but instead of making an unscheduled landing at Zagreb in Croatia the pilot decided to continue the flight and head for Vienna.

The aircraft ran out of fuel before reaching Vienna causing both engines to cease.

Arminger, whose flying licence was rescinded a year after the incident, told the court he had relied on data from the plane’s flight management system (FMS) and thought the plane had more fuel.

“The accident was and is for me a terrible thing. However I do not feel guilty alone for this near catastrophe,” he said.

Arminger, an experienced pilot with 8,490 flying hours on the Airbus 310 alone, said he had not realized the FMS, because of the still-lowered landing gear, was not delivering correct data on fuel consumption.

“In all our training we were told: trust this equipment,” he said.

The co-pilot told the court he was unhappy at the decision to fly to Vienna but the captain decided otherwise.

“As captain I would have flown to Zagreb,” he said.

However, he said he was also unaware the FMS did not function accurately in such a situation.

Arminger said that after the landing he was praised by his company for his skill in bringing the plane down safely.

“I was treated very positively at the investigation into the accident – it was said my flying performance had saved many lives,” he told the court.

The trial is expected to take two days.


Subject: German news