A gripping account of how a major air disaster was averted, by the captain and former Top Gun pilot.
Instinctively, I release my pressure on the sidestick. Out of my subconscious, a survival technique from a previous life emerges: Neutralise! I'm not in control so I must neutralise controls. I never imagined I'd use this part of my military experience in a commercial airliner ...
On routine flight QF72 from Singapore to Perth on 7 October 2008, the primary flight computers went rogue, causing the plane to pitch down, nose first, towards the Indian Ocean - twice.
The Airbus A330 carrying 315 passengers and crew was out of control, with violent negative G forces propelling anyone and anything untethered through the cabin roof.
It took the skill and discipline of veteran US Navy Top Gun Kevin Sullivan, captain of the ill-fated flight, to wrestle the plane back under control and perform a high-stakes emergency landing at a RAAF base on the WA coast 1200 kilometres north of Perth.
In No Man's Land , the captain of the flight tells the full story for the first time. It's a gripping, blow-by-blow account of how, along with his co-pilots, Sullivan relied on his elite military training to land the gravely malfunctioning plane and narrowly avert what could have been a horrific air disaster.
As automation becomes the way of the future, and in the aftermath of Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 and Lion Air flight JT610, the story of QF72 raises important questions about how much control we relinquish to computers and whether more checks and balances are needed.
About the Author
Captain Kevin 'Sully' Sullivan has made flying his passion and his life for the past 40 years. He graduated in 1977 from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and earned his FAA Private Pilot Licence there before pursuing a career in the United States Navy. Designated a Naval Aviator in 1978, he was transferred to Naval Air Station Miramar (Fightertown) to fly the F-14 Tomcat in 1980. He was deployed to the Indian Ocean onboard USS America and USS Enterprise while assigned to Fighter Squadron 114 (VF-114 Fighting Aardvarks), and was chosen to attend the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOP GUN).
In 1983 he was selected as the first US Navy Exchange Pilot to the Royal Australian Air Force, in the role of a Fighter Combat Instructor flying the Mirage 3. He joined QANTAS Airways in 1986 and flew the Boeing 747 and 767 before transitioning to the Airbus A330 in 2004. As Captain of Qantas Flight 72 (QF72) between Singapore and Perth, WA, on 7 October 2008, he narrowly averted a horrific air disaster when a fault in the plane's automation caused the plane to suddenly nosedive, not once but twice. He was medically retired in 2016.