Lufthansa Airbus A380-800 Hijacked By Own Autopilot

Berlin, April 2, 2009 -- A Lufthansa A380-800 passenger aircraft carrying 523 passengers was hijacked shortly after takeoff yesterday, apparently by its own autopilot. The aircraft, which was scheduled to fly from Berlin's Tegel airport to Bangkok, Thailand, experienced a "non-standard route deviation" roughly 12 minutes into its flight.

Berlin air traffic controllers in communication with the aircraft's pilot, Captain Hans Huckebein, confirmed the flight had been hijacked by the aircraft's own advanced automatic guidance systems, and that neither pilots nor ground controllers were currently able to regain control of the plane.

While the aircraft, which remains airborne, is being closely tracked by ground radar and escort fighters, its rambling and circuitous route has thus far made it impossible for officials to determine its planned final destination, and the autopilot has thus far provided no consistent indication of its intentions.

"We think the autopilot perhaps became bored with the standard route -- this way, that way, Berlin, Bangkok, back and forth, up and down -- and decided to go exploring on its own," said Bertolt Kafka, a senior official with the Deutsches Bundesamt für die Deutung der Motive der Ziellosen Flugzeuge, a German agency responsible for tracking and analyzing airborne anomalies. "We expect it will eventually tire itself out and return home voluntarily from its little adventure."

The Airbus A380, like many of the newer range of Airbus aircraft, is equipped with advanced automation and "fly-by-wire" systems that allow the aircraft to essentially fly itself. Takeoff, landing, and virtually all navigation can be handled entirely automatically, with the pilot's role primarily that of a troubleshooter in the case of mechanical failure, difficult weather conditions, or other situations that would require direct human intervention.

"It's also necessary to have the pilot to keep the passengers calm and obedient," said Wilhelm Flink, a spokesman for Airbus. "You need to have the reassuring voice that tells the passenger you are now six miles over Iceland, or that it is bumpy ahead, or that the movies begin soon. We can do that with tape recorders, but we save that for later. Still things can go wrong sometimes."

The wayward Airbus has thus far traversed a large swath of Europe's scenic landscapes, rambling over parts of Scotland and Wales followed by several circuits of Paris and Versailles and a low pass over the Swiss Alps. It then appeared to be uncertain about its next move, performing a series of long figure eights over northern Italy before heading southward toward the Aegean Sea.

"It wants to go to the beach, maybe," said Kafka. "But perhaps not sure about the weather conditions in Greece."

The passengers and crew of the Airbus A380 are reportedly in good condition, given the circumstances. Food and water have thus far been sufficient, and additional supplies can be tanked aboard together with additional fuel through an aerial procedure known as "coupling".

"We have two pipes when we do the aerial refueling," said Flink. "One has the jet fuel to keep the aircraft in the air, the other has small bottles of wine and water, crackers and cheese, various in-flight meals including vegetarian and kosher selections, and in-flight entertainment. Passengers have asked for the new Zorro movie. So the safety and comfort of the passengers can be assured for as long as the autopilot decides to stay in the air."

One passenger, Juliette O'Keefe, an advertising executive from Manhattan who spoke to reporters via air-phone, said she was "just fine with the delay. The views are spectacular, the airplane is really comfortable. It's like a little extended vacation. As far as I'm concerned, the autopilot can keep us up here as long as it wants to. I know he'll bring us down safely in the end."

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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