There are absolutely no shortage of stories of people taking a wrong turn or ending up in the wrong place, and as it turns out, being a pilot doesn’t make you immune to this error. Recently, an AirAsia flight from Sydney to Malaysia ended up in Melbourne for a spell due to a clerical error.
The flight, which left the Sydney Airport just before noon, began to experience some technical problems, and when the autopilot was switched on, it immediately became apparent something was very wrong as the entire plan began to turn in the wrong direction.
As the GPS and autopilot went haywire, the pilots attempted to return to Sydney and was eventually redirected to Melbourne due to weather. Once in Melbourne, authorities found nothing wrong with the plane and finally, a few hours later, it took off to head to its original destination.
According to the incident report filed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the pilot had unintentionally misplaced a single digit when entering the plane’s longitude. The misplacement of a single zero caused the plane’s internal navigational system to believe that the plane itself was actually near Cape Town, South Africa—almost 7,000 miles off course.
“The magnitude of this error adversely affected the aircraft’s navigation functions, global positioning system (GPS) receivers and some electronic centralized aircraft monitoring alerts,” the ATSB report said.
According to the ATSB report, these GPS “position initialization” errors happen about twice a year.