The answer is yes provided the captain carry out the recovery action in time
On 10 January 2023, a Qatar Airways Boeing 787 flight from Doha to Copenhagen nosedived and narrowly avoided striking the Arabian Gulf shortly after take-off from the Hamad International Airport.
According to Flightradar24, a Swedish internet-based service that shows real-time flight aircraft tracking information on a map, the plane underwent a rapid nosedive after taking off.
The airplane descended 850 feet in 24 seconds, passing close to the ocean before regaining control and then landed safely in Copenhagen six hours later.
Apparently, the co-pilot who was flying the plane manually, lost ‘situational awareness’ and caused the aircraft to descent at 3,000 feet per minute sink rate
Thankfully, the captain quickly took over control and pulled the aircraft up at 800 feet, avoiding a major disaster.
The aircraft then recommenced its climb to 36,000 feet and continued on its journey without further incident.
This loss of situation awareness could easily have led to a spatial disorientation had the captain not intervened in time.
This was what had happened on a Boeing 737 that crashed into the Red Sea shortly after take off from Sharm El Sheikh International Airport in Egypt on January 2004.
Spatial disorientation can cause a pilot to lose track of his position, motion and altitude relative to the earth, leading to a so-called graveyard spiral when the pilot becomes confused due to little or no visual reference to the horizon. This is attributed to a ‘false sensation’ experienced or sometimes known as a somatogravic illusion.
To overcome spatial disorientation, pilots are trained to ignore their senses when the upset condition arose and to focus on flying with reference to the flight instruments.
Another similar near miss event happened on a Boeing 777-200 which was taking off from Maui’s airport in Hawaii on December 18, 2022. It was on a United Airlines flight departing for San Francisco. The plane climbed to 2,200 feet and then went into a steep dive at a rate of over 8,000 feet per minute.
However, the pilots were able to recover from this dive within 775 feet of the ocean!
Normally, investigators would have access to the flight data recorder but not the voice recorder if the flight is longer than 2 hours. As such, in the 6-hour long Qatar Airways and United Airlines flight, they could not fully retrieve what transpired during the events due to the limitations of the cockpit voice recorders (CVR).
This is an issue and a recurring concern of the investigators which have long advocated a 25-hour recording capability of the CVR instead of only 2 hours.
A good safety investigation would be able to determine the exact cause of any incidents and to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
As regards to the above question, all airline pilots are trained and regularly checked out on Jet Upset Recovery procedures on the most adverse scenario as a result of the Air France Flight 447 crash.
The two recent successful outcomes of the Qatar Airways and United Airlines flights are testimony of the rigorous training.
Plane nosedives following take-off