A bored Royal Air Force pilot flying nearly 200 UK service personnel to Afghanistan sent his passenger jet into a nosedive when a camera he had been playing with jammed the flight controls, a court martial heard.

As the Voyager aircraft plummeted 4,400ft in seconds, passengers were pinned to the ceiling and left thinking they were going to die.

But after Flt Lt Andrew Townshend regained control of the 197ft wingspan aircraft, he allegedly lied in both a technical log and service inquiry and insisted the incident had been caused by a technical fault.

The 49-year-old denies two counts of perjury and making a false record in relation to lying, but admits negligently performing a duty in relation to causing the camera to collide with the side-stick.

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The air around Camp Bastion is eerily still as a tidal wave of sand and dust approaches from the West. Photo / Cpl Daniel Wiepen RLC
The air around Camp Bastion is eerily still as a tidal wave of sand and dust approaches from the West. Photo / Cpl Daniel Wiepen RLC

Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire heard Flt Lt Townshend was bored while flying from the UK to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and "practicing long-exposure photography when his co-pilot left the cockpit to get a cup of tea".

His Nikon DSLR camera was positioned in front of his arm rest and became jammed with the plane's controls when he moved his seat forward in the incident in February 2014.

The camera wedged between his arm rest and the 'side-stick' -- a joystick used to control the plane - which pushed it forward, disengaging the auto-pilot and causing the plane to nosedive.

Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said: "The descent was unannounced so passengers experienced weightlessness, they were thrown to the ceiling and thought they were going to die.

"This all happened while he was alone in the cockpit, the co-pilot managed to get back to his seat and was in fact on the ceiling while trying to gain control with Townshend.

"Fortunately they managed to gain control of the plane."

His Nikon DSLR camera was positioned in front of his arm rest and became jammed with the plane's controls when he moved his seat forward in the incident in February 2014.

The camera wedged between his arm rest and the 'side-stick' - a joystick used to control the plane - which pushed it forward, disengaging the auto-pilot and causing the plane to nosedive.

Nigel Lickley QC, prosecuting, said: "The descent was unannounced so passengers experienced weightlessness, they were thrown to the ceiling and thought they were going to die.

"This all happened while he was alone in the cockpit, the co-pilot managed to get back to his seat and was in fact on the ceiling while trying to gain control with Townshend.

"Fortunately they managed to gain control of the plane."

- Orignally published in Telegraph UK