Qantas - a near death experience

It all goes back to the film version of Arthur Hailey's Airport. By 1970 standards, this was an exciting, extravagent movie and it scared the shit out of me. Watching it in Superpanavision and stereo, on a big screen was really the only way to experience it. You have to remember, young readers, that in 1970, most people had never flown anywhere in their lives. I only did it once before then, and it was like being in a dream. People dressed up to fly. Air Hostesses cossetted you from start to finish and you got china cups and metal cutlery and you were waved through the airport like you were a VIP and there were no horrid Muzzies to spoil the fun. The pilots looked more likeStarship Captains. At any rate, they could be ugly as a dog's bottom, but the uniform and peaked cap with the spaghetti on it had a built in knicker-elastic melter.
Flying to me is always a re-run of the movie, Airport. I look furtively around to see if there is a nervous, sweaty little man clutching a briefcase, or a sweet little sick boy in need of an urgent transplant, or worse, a singing nun. Too many cliche passengers and I want to get off.
Which brings me to my story of the week:
Qantas had a serious emergency in November when an engine blew up in flight. At the time the extent of the emergency was underplayed by those laconic, laid back seeming pilots; "sorry folks, one of the engines is shot to buggery. Open another tinnie and the sheilas and poofters will come round with some extra Pringles while we get it sorted out." The release of what actually happened is chilling. Yes, the pilots, all five of them, did an incredible job, but their problems amounted to far more than a blown engine.

The aircraft would not have arrived safely in Singapore without the focused and effective action of the flight crew," Martin Dolan, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's Chief Commissioner, said on Friday.
As the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine blew apart over Batam Island, Indonesia, minutes after take-off, fragments ripped though parts of the wing, puncturing fuel, hydraulic and electronic systems and leaving the plane with limited flight controls, the ATSB said in a report.
But the magnitude of the damage became clear only when the co-pilot walked through the cabin and a passenger, another pilot, showed him a picture from a camera mounted on the plane's tail and fed into the onboard entertainment system.
The picture showed the Airbus was leaving a trail of fluid behind -- most likely fuel and perhaps hydraulic fluid -- from a puncture through the wing.
As the plane lost fuel quickly, its center of gravity also started to shift, presenting another problem. But the crew could not shift fuel as required as it was not clear how badly the fuel system was damaged, the report said.
There were so many warnings, it took pilots 50 minutes just to complete the required responses before they could prepare the plane for landing.
The number of errors was such that computers calculating landing data could not handle them all. Pilots removed some options, hoping that would still be enough to make an accurate call.
With the plane coming in at 440 tons, about 50 tons heavier than its maximum landing weight, the computer eventually concluded it would stop with just 100 meters of runway to spare at Singapore's Changi Airport, the report said.
But 100 meters was enough for the crew and they opted to land instead of dumping fuel, which would further upset the plane's balance.
The A380 "remained controllable" as its prepared to land, but it lost many of its systems which controlled pitch, speed and braking, so pilots asked the cabin crew to prepare for an emergency evacuation as they risked a runway overrun, it said.
The Airbus stopped with just 150 meters of concrete left, brakes heated to 900 degrees Celsius and four blown tires.
In addition, it was gushing fuel and one of its engines refused to shut down for over two hours, until fire crews drowned it with foam

I am no aviation expert, but they appear to have come within a gnat's whisker of all dying in a massive fireball, either in the air or on crash landing. Quantas have the finest safety record in the world, having not had a fatal crash in 60 years of jet aviation.

Happy flying.


Jim said...

Phew. Some scary story. I read that it was pure luck that an off duty spare crew were passengers on the flight and were able to help the crew during the crisis.
These new double decker 500 seaters were supposed to be bullet proof but for some reason the RR Trents have been letting them down. This is the same engine that is used in Boeing aircraft aswell so it's all very mysterious.

Richard said...

Jeebers. I don't like flying, and stories like this just confirm my instincts. If God had meant us to fly, He'd have given us tickets.

Angry Exile said...

"If God had meant us to fly, He'd have given us tickets."

If God had meant us to fly he wouldn't have given us paranoid Americans, the TSA, increasing security theatre and interminable queues for it all. If there isn't an actual ocean in the way I prefer to drive these days. I rather like flying Qantas but driving, despite the combined efforts of the Victorian, South Australian and New South Wales police, is actually less hassle.