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An out-of-this-world computer malfunction

Last week the subject of this column was digital forensics, and a discussion of what is involved in investigating the causes of a computer malfunction.

In most cases, the high costs involved in performing a thorough forensics investigation is simply not justified only to satisfy idle curiosity.

One place where this is never the case though is in the transportation industry. In some rare cases no amount of money is enough to discover an answer as to why a computer malfunctioned. This is something Quantas airlines and Airbus SE learned in 2008.

On October 7, 2008, Quantas Airlines flight 72 was bound from Singapore to Perth when its autopilot abruptly pitched the plane into a violent dive.  The pilots quickly took manual control and recovered, but not before 110 people were injured as a result of being thrown to the ceiling.

The flight crew did not only a heroic job of saving the plane but also recognized the need to shut off the flight control computers to preserve evidence.  After the plane made a successful emergency landing, it then became the target of a thorough investigation to determine why the autopilot almost made the plane fall out of the sky.

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