The earliest forms of clipboards were patented in the 1870s but are really little more than a clip affixed to a sturdy board. The fact that one of these forced a Sydney-bound plane to return to New Zealand is testament to their power.
Simpsons fans will be all too familiar with the power of inanimate objects. In ‘Deep Space Homer’, an inanimate carbon rod, after single-handedly (rodedly?) saving a NASA space shuttle, is given a parade and TIME front cover with the caption, ‘In Rod We Trust!’.
But this infamous inanimate clipboard might just go down in history as the bit of stationery that stopped a plane. May it rest in peace.
On 27 October last year, a Jetstar flight bound for Sydney out of Auckland was already in the air when the captain was alerted to a situation in the A320’s right engine.
An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report into the October incident revealed that while preparing the aircraft for departure, the leading hand placed his clipboard into the right engine cowling to protect his paperwork from wind and rain.
The dispatcher noticed the clipboard during her walkaround but assumed it would be retrieved prior to takeoff and didn’t notify anyone of the “foreign object debris as per company procedures”, the report read.
As the A320 was taxiing, the leading hand realised his clipboard was missing, but thought the dispatcher had picked it up and asked her about it. It was then that they realised that the clipboard was missing.
Ground crew found paper debris at the site of the aircraft’s preparation and organised for their operations area to contact the flight crew. Twelve minutes after the leading hand first realised the clipboard was missing, the plane took off, the clipboard still in its right engine cowling.
When the flight’s captain was told, a short time later, that the paperwork may have been sucked into the right-hand engine, the captain asked if there was also a clipboard involved and was advised by a company engineer on the ground that a piece of sheared metal had been found.
It was at that point that the flight crew decided to return to Auckland, landing an hour after the Airbus had taken off.
Paper was found throughout the engine as well as minor damage to an engine fan blade and attrition liner.
But don’t fret, the problem is unlikely to happen again. At the time of the incident, the ATSB found there was no procedure in place for the ground crew to contact the flight crew in the event of a "non-normal or emergency situation" prior to or after departure.
Now, ground crew staff are told how to re-establish communication with the cockpit "such as visually gaining the attention of the flight or contacting them via radio" and Jetstar workers are given a specific warning about not placing items in the engine cowling. Phew.