A Ryanair plane was only seconds from crashing on the ground in France with 172 people on board.
The flight from London Stansted was approaching Bergerac Airport in poor weather conditions when the incident occurred, an investigation report reveals.
The Boeing 737 flew too low for more than two minutes while making a turn in the clouds on an autopilot, eight miles from the runway.
A “terrain” warning was given to warn the pilots that they were flying too low before an automated safety system was triggered and ordered them to “PULL UP PULL UP!”.
The captain, 57, and the co-pilot trainee, 27, interrupted their approach before landing safely a few minutes later.
An investigation by French aviation regulator BEA revealed that the pilots lost “ situational awareness ” during the January 2015 incident.
The plane would have touched down in 40 seconds if it had continued to descend as the plane dropped to 900 feet per minute, the report said.
He stated that the crew had chosen to use an automated system to control the descent of their aircraft but that the co-pilot was on a “non-precision approach”.
This allows the pilot to follow a predetermined course to a minimum altitude – pilots are not allowed to descend below this minimum altitude unless they can see the runway.
But the co-pilot, who had only 400 hours of experience, had never done this before, the report said, and the master was unaware of it.
The report revealed that the pilot and co-pilot’s preparation for the landing attempt was “insufficiently precise and complete”.
He said: “This caused confusion on the part of the captain on the horizontal route which was actually taken by the aircraft.
“This state of confusion led him to call for the premature descent of the aircraft, below the minimum safe altitude.”
The investigation revealed that the standard instrument landing system was out of service at the airport and the captain did not use the more precise satellite navigation equipment during the approach.
Following the incident, Ryanair changed its operating procedures and instructed the pilots not to use similar “non-precision” approaches during autopilot.