Qantas Probes Laptop Link After Painful Altitude Deviations

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The rapid altitude change last Tuesday of an Airbus A330-300 cruising at 37,000 feet with 303 passengers aboard resulted in injuries to at least 74 people, a potential compensation bill for the airline (Qantas) and new concerns about potential conflicts between laptop computers and commercial aircraft systems. In July, manipulation of a wireless mouse was blamed for the course deviation of a Qantas jet, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). This more recent deviation (from altitude) resulted in fractures, lacerations and suspected spinal injuries for passengers who became in-cabin lotto balls while bound for Perth from Singapore. According to the flight's data recorder, the jet dropped 650 feet in about twenty seconds, then dropped another 400 feet in 16 seconds. Those drops reportedly followed a climb of about 300 feet and crew reports that they observed "some irregularity with the aircraft's elevator control system," according to the ATSB. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Learmouth air force base near Exmouth.

Passengers are now being asked if they were using any form of personal electronic device at the time of the incident. The ATSB has said an "irregularity" in one of the aircraft's flight system computers may have caused the altitude change.