(Please see update below.) Thanks for a slew of messages and queries on the two unrelated air-safety items in the news today. These involve an episode two years ago in Singapore, and one today over the Gulf of Mexico. The main points:
1) OK, Now I See How a Mobile Phone Could Be Dangerous in Flight. This case, from 2010, is easier to explain but harder to understand. According to Australian news reports, the crew of an Airbus A320 had to abort a final approach, and "go around" just before landing, because its captain was distracted by beeps on his mobile phone -- and didn't notice that he had failed to put the landing gear down. The flight was on Jetstar, the discount sibling to Qantas, and went from Darwin to Singapore. FWIW, my wife and I had gone on that very Jetstar route not long before.
The account in Australia's The Age, based on an investigation by Australia's counterpart to the NTSB, is fairly dramatic:
Somewhere between 2500 feet and 2000 feet, the captain's mobile phone started beeping with incoming text messages, and the captain twice did not respond to the co-pilot's requests.
The co-pilot looked over and saw the captain "preoccupied with his mobile phone", investigators said. The captain told investigators he was trying to unlock the phone to turn it off, after having forgotten to do so before take-off.
At 1000 feet, the co-pilot scanned the instruments and felt "something was not quite right" but could not spot what it was.
At this stage the captain still did not realise the landing gear had not been lowered, and neither pilot went through their landing checklist.
At 720 feet, a cockpit alert flashed and sounded to warn that the wheels still hadn't been lowered.
At 650 feet, the captain moved the undercarriage lever "instinctively" but then a "too low" ground-warning alarm sounded as the plane sunk through 500 feet, indicating the landing gear was not fully extended and locked.
This is easy to "explain" in the same way a texting-while-driving car crash would be. Every pilot who has trained in a retractable-gear plane has heard a zillion warnings and reminders about the constant danger of forgetting to lower the landing gear. (One reason the kind of plane I fly, the Cirrus SR series, has "fixed" landing gear is precisely to avoid this source of risk.) As the old chestnut has it, there are two kinds of retractable-gear pilots: Those who have forgotten to put the gear down, and those who will.