Spilled drink in cockpit leads to hijacking alert

Thu Jan 6, 2011 12:00pm EST
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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Beware of spilling drinks while flying a plane.

During a United Airlines flight to Frankfurt, Germany from Chicago this week, a cockpit crew member spilled a beverage on equipment, an airline spokesman said. It prompted a chain of events that inadvertently sent an alert that the plane was being hijacked.

"During a period of light turbulence, a cockpit crew member's beverage spilled, causing issues with the airplane's communications equipment," said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.

The beverage caused a problem with one of the aircraft's radio systems, which prompted the pilot to decide to land the plane Monday evening rather than proceed overseas.

While the crew was adjusting the transponder to a frequency needed to alert air traffic control that the plane was having communication problems, the hijack alert was accidentally triggered.

Johnson said that the crew remained in contact with air traffic control and landed in Toronto. Passengers were flown back on a different plane to Chicago, where meals and hotel accommodations were provided, Johnson said. They departed again for their destination on Tuesday afternoon.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune)