A fatal military plane crash in Spain was caused when data was accidentally wiped from computers controlling three of the aircraft’s four engines, it is claimed.
Four of six crew members on board an Airbus A400M military transport plane died after the aircraft plunged into a field near Seville last month during a routine delivery flight.
Now sources familiar with the investigation have said crucial computer programmes which control how fast each engine spins were missing from the plane’s systems.
If the programmes, known as ‘data parameters’, are not present then the computer is unable to make sense of the information it is given.
Crucially, according to Reuters, there is no warning system built into the plane to detect this fault, meaning the pilots would have been unaware of the problem until they were in the air.
Once airborne, the engines would have been spinning too slowly, meaning the craft would have struggled to maintain altitude.
After realising there was a problem, Airbus said the crew switched the faulty engines into idle mode, before attempting to reboot them.
However, safety mechanisms on board Airbus planes mean that malfunctioning engines are prevented from rebooting and causing further issues.
The system was designed to prevent against a single engine fault disrupting systems on board the entire plane, but it seems designers had not envisaged multiple engines failing at the same time.
This safety mechanism meant that, once the three engines were placed into idle mode, they would have been stuck there, making the plane unable to fly.
From that point on there was little the pilots could have done to prevent the aircraft crashing.
The crash, which happened on May 9, is the latest setback for the A400M project, which was already running years late and massively overbudget.
The development of the aircraft has already taken 12 years, and cost more than $20billion.
The plane had already been bought by several NATO member states when the crash happened, including Britain, but flights using them were suspended while the accident is investigated.
An Airbus spokeswoman said the investigation was continuing and it was too early draw conclusions.
‘Safety is our first priority and we will do all that is necessary to get the full picture of what could have led to this tragic accident and take the necessary action,’
Airbus has announced it plans to fly one of its A400M aircraft at the Paris Air Show next week.
The European Aviation Safety Agency, which is responsible for A400M certification, has declined to comment.