back to article Oddly enough, when a Tesla accelerates at a barrier, someone dies: Autopilot report lands

A Tesla with Autopilot engaged accelerated toward a barrier in the final seconds before a deadly crash, an official report into the crash has revealed. Apple engineer Walter Huang was driving his Model X P100D on a Silicon Valley freeway on the morning of March 23 when the car, under computer control, moved into the triangular …

Garbage In, Garbage Out..........

Enough said.

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One of those questions has an obvious answer: the cruise control was set to 70 MPH, and once it wasn't following another car it accelerated to the setpoint speed.

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Exactly.

Here's why it might have hit the divider:

https://youtu.be/6QCF8tVqM3I

And El Reg has (I think) already run a piece on why the car won't stop for stationary objects.

Here is WIRED's take on it:

https://www.wired.com/story/tesla-autopilot-why-crash-radar

And a summary feom elsewhere:

Tesla "Autopilot" cannot see stationary objects. It has a radar, but it is 1-D and low resolution. It uses this to localize other moving cars. In theory, it could use this to see a highway divider or firetruck it's about to hit, but since it's 1-D that would also mean that it would have to slam on the brakes when it sees an overpass coming up, because it can't tell the difference between an overpass and a highway divider or a firetruck. It can assume that overpasses aren't driving at 60mph, so it will see other cars. The Tesla algorithm is "look for lane markings and try to stay between them, and don't hit any moving vehicles. If there is any stationary object, including another a vehicle in your lane, the "Autopilot" will plow right into it.

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Didn't need to stop if it had stayed in the lane. No crossing solid lines. Should be pretty simple.

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Anonymous Coward

Self Preservation mode

Accelerate fast enough and you destroy the Evidence.

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Re: Self Preservation mode

Obviously not fast enough in thie case.

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JDX
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So Tesla has follow-distance control but no emergency stop? Isn't that becoming standard even on regular cars?

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Yepp but the lane marking were worn and not replace, just as the whole of the clash protect system was missing (basic maintain of highway is simple too)

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Meh

So Tesla has follow-distance control but no emergency stop? Isn't that becoming standard even on regular cars?

My Honda Jazz has it but only at low speed. I've had it trigger once and it was - sorta - right. Someone pulled out onto a roundabout in front of me. It would have been a cheeky but safe lunge if it wasn't for the fact they were towing a trailer. So I stopped (no panic, just slowed and waited). But I was a bit irritated and concerned about being rear-ended so when the trailer was half way across my front I accelerated. I knew the trailer would clear before I got there but the car disagreed. Cue lots of beeps, lights flashing on the dashboard and the brakes coming on.

But I think it only trggers below 30mph so wouldn't help in this scenario.

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Re: Self Preservation mode

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Its a glorified cruise control. Calling it "Autopilot" vastly overstates its abilities and lulls drivers into a false sense of security.

It does not really provide long term, hands free driving as Tesla say, yet it can manage long enough to remove any attention span you may need to do anything manually while you drop your coffee and put the phone down etc.

If they stopped calling it autopilot it will remove the inappropriate belief that the car becomes self driving.

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"So Tesla has follow-distance control but no emergency stop?"

It does have emergency stop if (eg) the car in front of you slams it's brakes on, but as explained up thread, it might not be able to 'see' stationary objects.

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Anonymous Coward

" If there is any stationary object, including another a vehicle in your lane, the "Autopilot" will plow right into it. "

If true, in my place, the day when everyone has this, deaths on road will rocket high vs. today.

You can find anything idle on the roads here: rocks, animals, idle cars of a random idiot having a phone call etc ...

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@Baldrickk

"If there is any stationary object, including another a vehicle in your lane, the "Autopilot" will plow right into it. "

Sorry, that last line confused me - how come it can spot a moving car/object in front of it and slow accordingly but not a stationary one? That makes no sense and suggests it would plow into a traffic jam which is clearly not the case since Autopilot works in traffic. I suspect the radar signal from the divider wasn't big enough at first to cause a reaction but you'd expect that when fairly close to it the computer would realise there's a stationary object in front and at least try to slow down. The fact that it didn't suggests a serious bug rather than an overall design fault.

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Facepalm

Re: Self Preservation mode

encouraged by the name and marketing, owners think [...]

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Its a glorified cruise control. Calling it "Autopilot" vastly overstates its abilities and lulls drivers into a false sense of security.

It does not matter what people think, with an autopilot in an aircraft the pilot must stay in position, be ready to take over anytime. People SHOULD KNOW.

It is rather dumb that people think autopilot means autonomous driving when it does not. You are supposed to keep your hands on the wheel AND your eyes on the road. You can move your feet away from the pedals and enjoy the ride, HOWEVER, keep hands on wheel and eyes on the road.

Reminds me of the story of a camping car driver who thought cruise control was autonomous driving, engaged it and went to the kitchen for a nice hot coffee .... or wing mirrors which mention "objects in (the) mirror are closer than they appear" No f'ing shit Sherlock ...

You get a car, you work out what options it has AND what these do PRIOR TO USING THEM.

The world cannot save all cretins, we are all trying very hard, but, you know, some are just beyond help. You can rename the option to super cruise control or whatever, there will always be cretins who think it means autonomous driving.

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Honda Jazz? Surely pensioners don't read the Register?

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Anonymous Coward

"No crossing solid lines. Should be pretty simple."

ISTR that the markings were mostly washed out and probably not easily recognized. The lane visually just expands to the left.

The "bug" was reproducible:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j38PN79X6-Q&t=22s

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I'm 73 and receive a government pension, though I still have to work too. I read The Reg every day between sessions of designing machinery in Autodesk Fusion 360, building and programming projects for my Arduino boards, learning to play guitar, and riding too fast on my BMW K1200R. Though from your remark, I'm pretty sure that by pension age, you'll be too addled to comprehend The Reg, I'm not, and neither are a lot of other Reg readers. Stifle your ageist remarks. Sooner or later you'll be talking about yourself.

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Re: Self Preservation mode

I think it's been too long. People will still think it's a car that can drive itself.

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It does have emergency stop if (eg) the car in front of you slams it's brakes on, but as explained up thread, it might not be able to 'see' stationary objects.

That's ridiculous - my 10 year old Volvo can 'see' stationary objects and will warn about them loudly, as in windshield flashing red and lots of warning noises.... No automated braking as it's too old for that feature, but cruise control will dramatically slow down the car if engaged, including downshifting for engine braking.

Happens sometimes if you are in a long left turn lane cut out of a median and there is a control box or other square-ish object on the other end of the turn lane (but on the other side of the cutout) which you may be approaching rapidly as you reach the left turn point...

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Pint

To a productive member of society:

I'm 73 and receive a government pension...

Have an upvote and a virtual beverage!

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"So Tesla has follow-distance control but no emergency stop? Isn't that becoming standard even on regular cars?"

I hope not. That would be the first thing I'd want to rip out of a new car. Sometimes it's better to stay at the same speed or go faster and maneuver than to slam on the brakes. I don't see any sort of autonomous car being able to make that decision anytime soon.

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Re: Self Preservation mode

"If they stopped calling it autopilot it will remove the inappropriate belief that the car becomes self driving."

It's a glorified adaptive cruise control with lane keeping assist. One of it's biggest problems is that it works well enough in many, if not most, average driving situations, but royally screws up from time to time. People get lulled into letting it do too much with too little attention up until the point where it hits the emergency vehicle.

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"So Tesla has follow-distance control but no emergency stop?"

Teslas do have Automatic Emergency Braking - but, as with other vehicle makes, the cars brake for objects that they detect. Like people, cars may drive into things that they don't "see".

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Happy

Born before or after the bomb?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Baldrickk

how come it can spot a moving car/object in front of it and slow accordingly but not a stationary one?

The sensors can't see far enough ahead to spot objects off in the distance, and by the time those stationary objects finally come into range, at highway speeds, it's far too close for the vehicle to react and the collision is inevitable.

Essentially, Telsa's autopilot feature is like driving with Mr. Magoo*--or Carrie Underwood during a snowstorm.**

The future of self-driving / autonomous vehicles is to prevent those types of drivers from ever being on the road--but we're clearly not there yet, and Tesla isn't helping when it's designing and promoting systems as "autopilot" when they're far worse than most human drivers.

* - Mr. Magoo was extremely nearsighted / almost blind cartoon character that frequently got into hijinx as he would bump into things.

** - In her song "Jesus Take the Wheel" she hits a patch of ice and skids out of control. At that point she ignores any previous driving instruction she might have received, takes both hands off the wheel in order to pray for Jesus to change from his role as co-pilot to actual pilot, and steer her to safety.

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Sometimes it's better to stay at the same speed or go faster and maneuver than to slam on the brakes. I don't see any sort of autonomous car being able to make that decision anytime soon.

Agreed. The automated panic braking ("collision avoidance", which really means "convert a collision at the front end of your car to one at the back end") in my wife's new Volvo is a huge pain in the ass. It triggers inappropriately all the time, generally when some idiot pulls into the lane in front of the car at too short a distance (in the computer's opinion). It's just luck that she hasn't been rear-ended yet by a tailgating vehicle when that happens.

Volvo's Pilot Assist features are highly rated by reviewers who like this sort of thing. I'd hate to try to drive a vehicle that has a low-rated implementation.

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Re: Self Preservation mode

"...I've said it before and I'll say it again. Its a glorified cruise control. Calling it "Autopilot" vastly overstates its abilities and lulls drivers into a false sense of security..."

I've hadn't really noticed that people had such a messed up definition of autopilot until the last few days when this crash's report came out.

This is Autopilot. Not a chauffeur, or a self-driving car. On and airplane, Autopilot holds a heading and an altitude. It does not steer around other planes or terrain. On a boat, autopilot will hold a magnetic/true-heading course, it will not avoid other boats or undersea obstructions and the shore. Sure other systems have been piped into those autopilots to do more advanced stuff - reaching waypoints can trigger the loading of the next waypoint with a new heading - and radars, GPS, TCAS, and transponders add to the overall information picture, but a person still needs to respond when all the alarms start going off.

If you set a heading on a boat and then go below deck to get a cup of coffee for 10 minutes, the autopilot will drive itself right into another boat and not think anything was wrong with that. We don't have <u>self driving</u> commercial boats and planes yet either... The US Navy had a few crashes in recent history that show what happens on a boat when you don't pay attention to what your automation systems are doing.

It seems that only in the delusions of people who are literally >>>dying<<< to get a self driving car, that the definition seems to have been misunderstood.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm 16 and receive pocket money, though I still have a paper round too. I read The Reg every day between sessions of designing machinery in Autodesk Fusion 360, building and programming projects for my Arduino boards, learning to play guitar, and riding too fast on my Gilera Runner 50. Though from your remark, I'm pretty sure that by pension age, you'll be too addled to comprehend The Reg, I'm not, and neither are a lot of other Reg readers. Stifle your ageist remarks. Sooner or later you'll be talking about yourself.

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"but as explained up thread, it might not be able to 'see' stationary objects."

Tesla is explicitly clear that the autopilot is unlikely to detect and stop for stationary objects in its lane

when travellling in excess of 50mph

Autopilot is an enhanced cruise control. It's not a robot driver.

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Happy

"Born before or after the bomb?"

If you are 73 then you are probably born 1944, and before or after the bomb. If you try hard you may understand why I know it.

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Anonymous Coward

Simple for an experience human driver, apparently not for an artificial not-so-intelligence. The main theme in the article is correct: Tesla's use of the term "autopilot" was fatally misleading. Sad that a company that could have led the transition from fossil fuel to electric transportation may now be derailed by an irresponsible (juvenile?) marketing decision.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Baldrickk

Because tracking stationary objects is too hard for its pea-brained AI? I've driven on the Cali freeway system. It's not much different than NYC, but a lot easier to negotiate than, say, Philly. Anyone who uses autopilot (or cruise control, for that matter) in those kinds of road systems might as well point a loaded revolver at their head and hope the next chamber is empty.

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Re: @Baldrickk

Seeing the stationary objects is easy enough.

Determining which ones are actual hazards and which ones are overhead gantries, street furniture, potholes/cracks, leaves blowing across the road, stationary traffic in another lane or an actual threat is another matter entirely.

Lidar + processing power (as seen in autonomous vehicles) maps out the surroundings. With the 1D radar used for autopilot, there is no positional sense - at all.

You decide if you want to keep slamming your brakes on automatically and unnecessarily when on the freeway, causing someone to ram you up the rear, or filter out all the stationary returns.

Bear in mind that the driver is meant to be in control at all times, Autopilot or no.

Traffic slowing to a halt is easy, you can track the change in velocity and match it.

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The autopilot probably accelerated because cruise control was set to a higher speed and the car in front made it slow down. When the car moved out of view, it sped up to reach its set speed. And it's not wrong to call it an autopilot. An airliner autopilot will happily fly straight into a mountain if you tell it to. It's just steering automation, not HAL-9000. But I agree that Tesla are jerks for blaming the victim, particularly when it should be extremely easy to detect splitting lanes in the map data.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: OlaM

"An airliner autopilot will happily fly straight into a mountain if you tell it to."

IMHO if you manually tell it to do a dangerous thing, it stops being an autopilot at that point. Aircraft autopilot follows routes, with set safe altitudes, and terrain-following radar to avoid collisions.

Tesla's tech shot off into a barrier.

C.

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Terminator

Re: OlaM

I thought he worked for Apple, that may explain why he was driving it wrong.

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Re: OlaM

"Aircraft autopilot follows routes, with set safe altitudes, and terrain-following radar to avoid collisions."

Not true. Even advanced autopilot systems like those in a Cirrus SR type aircraft will happily fly itself into terrain (whilst screaming TERRAIN and flashing red at you if certain features are added/enabled) or even chase itself into a stall* if a pilot does not intervene. This is why these and most other aircraft have a big AP Disconnect button on the control yoke to disable the thing instantly.

I'm not sticking up for Tesla here, just defining what an "autopilot" actually is. Tesla need to sort that out. They really do.

*I've tested this "feature" personally. They insist on it on your first flight in the thing.

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...It's just steering automation, not HAL-9000....

At least one HAL 9000 was even more antagonstic towards humans than the Tesla code is....

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But I agree that Tesla are jerks for blaming the victim, particularly when it should be extremely easy to detect splitting lanes in the map data.

The right person to blame is the USA highways administration. That particular divider same as many similar dividers in other places have NO HATCHING in front.

Here is an example of how a similar lane split is done in Europe and UK: http://www.m44.co.uk/NewsImages/60.jpg The hatching in front is designed to produce both noise and shake when you cross it so it is not just visual. It will shake the driver to take control. Compared to that, the USA and that particular divider have nothing. The divider appears out of nowhere in the middle of the tarmac. I had a close call in exactly the same place barely missing that same divider a few years back driving to San Jose after a LHR-SFO flight. The way it is laid out (same as most similar places on a USA motorway) is criminal in its incompetence.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: OlaM

Autopilot on planes is simple. Theres a lot more space to work in, mountains tend not to move and theres a lot less traffic.

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Anonymous Coward

"An airliner autopilot will happily fly straight into a mountain if you tell it to."

BULL EXCREMENT.

It might do so.

BUT, it won't do so quietly.

Trust me, you'll have all sorts of alarms and flashing lights going off in the cockpit and extremely loud voices telling you to "PULL UP. PULL UP".

These alarms and voices will start in very good time, more than enough time to enable you to take evasive action.

Thus, the only time an airline will "happily fly into a mountain" is if you ignore all the warnings.

Finally, there is the little question of "Minimum Safety Altitude" on the charts. All aircraft will always be above that. The only time they go below MSA is to land.

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Anonymous Coward

"The right person to blame is the USA highways administration."

If that was the case someone would already have hit it, and the barrier would be damaged .......... like it was.

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Anonymous Coward

Blame Jerry Brown and the idiots at CARB

Driven that 101/85 interchange since the 1980's. It was perfectly safe until they added that idiotic Diamond Lane (HOV) lane connector about 15 years ago. Thats Jerry Browns fault. Idiotic idea piled on idiotic idea.

Some background. Back in the 1970s' during Jerry Browns last totally shambolic governorship he had the bright idea to reduce highway capacity at peak-hours by 25%/33% by reserving a lane for multiple occupancy vehicles. A very small percentage of total vehicles at rush hours. The bright idea was to socially engineer people out of single occupancy vehicles into using car pools. By making peak hours travel even more unpleasant. Over the next 30 years vehicle miles numbers almost doubled but the percentage of multiple occupancy vehicles stayed exactly the same. So about 90% of the Diamond Lanes miles at peak hours were basically empty while other 2/3 lanes of freeway stop and go.

So what did the bright sparks behind the Diamond Lanes idea do. Reassess their traffic engineering failure. No way. The doubled up by starting to build more Diamond Lanes, like the one at 101/85, and to hide t he fact that they were a massive failure gave tens of thousands of special bumper stickers to people who drive hybrids and electric cars to use the Diamond Lanes and, presto, the Diamond Lanes now have traffic at peak hours. About 90% of it single occupancy hybrid vehicles. Before they allowed hybrids in the Diamond Lanes the 280/85 to 280/17 run at rush hours in the Diamond Lanes was 65mph the whole way. Now you'd barely break 35mph due to all the hybrids. All with one occupant.

The easiest way to make ordinary people in the Bay Area hate electric / hybrid owners is to tell them about the special CARB Diamond Lane stickers. Most have not heard of them. And all get very angry given the patent unfairness of the special rush hour highway lanes for these very "special" people. Tosser one and all.

https://arb.ca.gov/msprog/carpool/carpool.htm

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re: mountain. "TERRAIN" "PULL UP"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_proximity_warning_system#Commercial_aircraft

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Aircraft autopilot ... terrain-following radar to avoid collisions.

Being of an antipodean nature, my first thought here is "Mt Erebus" and "Flight 901" (not to mention "orchestrated litany of lies"). However, that was 1979 and presumably aircraft autopilots are now a bit more advanced.

Are there any more recent inadvertent controlled flights into terrain that might provide useful for this discussion?

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Anonymous Coward

The right person to blame is the USA highways administration.

Pretty certain the road layout was like that before someone tried to use autopilot ....

Sure its a bit crap but otoh if the in car systems can't work in that environment they shouldn't be used nor sold as suitable for it, which is the alleged issue.

To paraphrase your logic : 'You didn't rebuild your roads properly for our cars so its your fault'

Road layouts and road maintenance quality will vary. The big question is do they vary so much that they can't be handled in a test suite. Or in other words, there are too many variable and unpredictable edge cases for statistical or programmatic methods to automate the task.

This is why I'm very much a skeptic on autonomous cars , especially in cities like London until we have much more real time integration of both car, bike, pedestrian and street level systems with significant infrastructure investment. Best of luck on the inner ring road ...

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Unhappy

Re: The right person to blame is the USA highways administration.

This is why I'm very much a skeptic on autonomous cars , especially in cities like London

Not just London. There are several roundabouts around Banbury that have lane markings and a lot of vehicles ignore them. Sometimes it's just a handful of lazy drivers but at some roundabouts it's endemic. Not that I'm a fan of lane markings but FFS they put them in place for a reason.

The Brackley A43 roundabout has just been 'upgraded' to a light controlled junction with lane markings and once they wear out I predict problems. I'm really glad I don't have to commute across that. The roundabout over M40 J11 is bad enough :(

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Re: The right person to blame is the USA highways administration.

"...real time integration of both car, bike, pedestrian and street level systems..."

What might these bike and pedestrian systems be? I hope you're not thinking that cyclists and peds will be told to carry a beacon to prevent AVs from hitting them.

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Re: Aircraft autopilot ... terrain-following radar to avoid collisions.

Are there any more recent inadvertent controlled flights into terrain that might provide useful for this discussion?

Here you are. Looking at a few of the recent crashes classed under CFIT that involved modern airliners, they were all caused by crew ignoring or responding too slow or incorrectly to warnings.

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Re: OlaM

German Wings 9525 anyone? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanwings_Flight_9525#Cause_of_crash

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