In Brief

Coffee spill blamed as Serbian president's plane plummets

Plane 'fell like a rock' after co-pilot accidentally hit the emergency button while trying to mop up his coffee

A Serbian government plane plummeted after a co-pilot tried to clean up coffee he had spilled in the cockpit, an aviation investigation has revealed.

While attempting to wipe up the mess, the co-pilot accidentally hit an emergency switch which caused an engine to shut down and the plane to rapidly lose altitude.

The plane was carrying President Tomislav Nikolic and nine other Serbian officials, who were on their way to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis last week, when disaster almost struck.

The aircraft, flying at 33,000 feet over the Adriatic Sea, went into a sudden nosedive after the cockpit mishap.

"These 60 seconds felt like an eternity," Stanislava Pak, a presidential adviser who was onboard the plane, told the New York Times.

"We were falling like a rock. Our things were flying all over the cabin. I fell on my colleague, and then grabbed his hand. It was the most terrifying moment." 

The pilots were able to regain control of the plane, but were forced to turn back to Belgrade, causing the president to miss his appointment with the Pope.

The co-pilot has since been suspended from duty for endangering flight safety, Serbian officials said.

This isn't the first time a spilt cup of coffee has caused chaos onboard an international flight. In 2011, a spill grounded a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Frankfurt after it caused communications and navigation problems.

In 2010 the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and scores of other senior figures were killed in a plane crash in Russia.

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