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What happened when a pilot spilled coffee on Serbian president's plane?

A government jet carrying Serbia's president to Italy last week was forced to turn back when the co-pilot spilled coffee on the instrument panel. 

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A Serbian government Falcon jet prepares for take off at a Belgrade International Airport, Serbia, in 2011. An investigation shows that a sudden plunge of the Serbian president's aircraft last week which triggered panic among passengers and an emergency return to Belgrade was caused by the co-pilot who spilled coffee on the instruments panel.

(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)

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Blamed initially on 'engine failure', it emerged on Tuesday that a government jet carrying Serbia's president to Italy last week was forced to turn back when the co-pilot spilled coffee on the instrument board.

Advisers to President Tomislav Nikolic described being "thrown around the cabin" when the plane -- a 34-year-old French-built Falcon 50 -- began tumbling through the air on Friday.

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The plane landed safely back in Belgrade, but Nikolic was forced to cancel his official visit to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican, and his advisers put the incident down to yet another malfunction on the aging, incident-prone aircraft.

One adviser told Reuters that she would "never step foot on that plane again," saying the fall had lasted "for what seemed like an eternity."

An investigation determined that the co-pilot, Bojan Zoric, had spilled coffee on the instrument board "due to ongoing turbulence."

"I began wiping the board and accidentally activated the 'emergency slat' button," which automatically turned off the automatic pilot and the plane began losing altitude, Zoric said in the report by Serbia's Civil Aviation Directorate.

Slats are located on leading edges of the wings and are extended or retracted to change the aircrafts' angle of descent.

The pilot took over command, managed to pull the plane up and sought permission to turn back to Belgrade, Zoric added. He said that one of the engines then stopped working but was restarted on the way back to the airport.

The Directorate temporarily suspended Zoric's license on Monday.

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The president reportedly has vowed to fly on commercial airlines from now on. 

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Heavens)


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