An Indian co-pilot sent an international passenger jet into a terrifying nosedive when he adjusted his seat and accidentally pushed the control column forward, an official report revealed Monday.
The clumsy officer then panicked and was unable to let the captain, who had gone on a toilet break, back into the cockpit as the plane plunged 7,000 feet (2,000 metres).
The captain only saved the Boeing 737 aircraft after using an emergency code to get through the cockpit door and take the controls back from the co-pilot, the report by India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.
The 25-year-old co-pilot told the inquiry he had "got in a panic situation couldn't control the aircraft, neither open the cockpit door and answer the cabin call."
When the captain, 39, got back into the cockpit, he shouted "What are you doing?" as cabin crew ordered the 113 terrified passengers to fasten their seatbelts.
The report said there was "complete commotion" in the cabin and that passengers were "very much scared and were shouting loudly" as the plane dived steeply and boxes and liquor bottles fell into the aisle.
The Air India Express flight was flying at 37,000 feet from Dubai to Pune airport, in western India, on May 26 when the near-disaster occurred. No one was injured.
According to the report, the nosedive was "due to the copilot adjusting his seat forward and inadvertently pressing the control column forward."
The plane fell 2,000 feet before the captain got back into the cockpit -- and another 5,000 feet as he struggled with the panicking co-pilot.
"There was application of opposite force by pilot and copilot on control column," the report said.
It added that the copilot "probably had no clue to tackle this kind of emergency."
"Appropriate action shall be taken against the involved crew," it concluded.
After the incident, the captain tried to calm passengers by telling them that the aircraft had hit an air pocket.
Four days earlier, another Air India Express flight had crashed at Mangalore airport, killing 158 people. A leaked report blamed a sleepy pilot.