x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Qantas to inspect every 747

Qantas has been ordered to inspect every oxygen bottle aboard its fleet of 747s after an explosion on one of its planes.

The Qantas pilot Capt John Francis Bartels, right, looks at the hole of the Melbourne-bound Boeing 747 after it made an emergency landing at the international airport in Manila.
The Qantas pilot Capt John Francis Bartels, right, looks at the hole of the Melbourne-bound Boeing 747 after it made an emergency landing at the international airport in Manila.

SYDNEY // Qantas has been ordered to inspect every oxygen bottle aboard its fleet of 747s after a mid-air explosion forced one of its planes to make an emergency landing, an air safety official said today. "It will be a visual inspection and it is a precautionary step," said Peter Gibson, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia. Investigators have said the theory that exploding emergency oxygen canisters were responsible for Friday's mid-air drama over the South China Sea is a "key focus" of their investigations.

Mr Gibson said, if proven, the finding would have implications for other 747 planes around the world. He added that Qantas would be asked to check each oxygen container and the brackets holding the containers. "The inspection will take a couple of hours for each plane so it will take a few days to do them all," Mr Gibson said. Qantas, which prides itself on its impressive safety record, has a fleet of around 30 Boeing 747s.

The aircraft was on a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne when it was forced to make an emergency landing. The plane plunged 20,000 feet before stabilising and then making an emergency landing in the Philippines capital of Manila, where stunned passengers saw a 10-foot rip in the fuselage next to the right wing. "There are two cylinders located pretty much exactly where that hole appeared," Mr Gibson said. "Clearly that is one key focus of the investigation.

"We cannot just say that is the cause, but clearly the fact that two oxygen bottles are in that location, and clearly this was damage caused by some sort of outward pressure, obviously that means that is a key aspect of the investigation." He said the cylinders were emergency oxygen for the flight deck. "Not every 747 is going to have these exact oxygen bottles on them," Mr Gibson added. Asked if there would be major implications, he added: "It could have. It will affect probably all of Australia's (747s) and there would be others out there."

He discounted a report that corrosion was to blame for the incident, saying that while minor corrosion had been found in the plane during a routine check a few months ago, it was in a totally different area of the aircraft. Investigators, however, would examine the issue of corrosion in general, he added. Sources close to the investigation have said the 365 passengers and crew were lucky to be alive.

Qantas prides itself on its extremely good safety record, and the plane's pilot, John Bartels, said in a statement that training enabled the flight crew to handle the emergency. "As soon as we realised this was a decompression, I immediately pulled out my memory checklist," Mr Bartels said in the statement. "There were three of us in the cockpit and we all worked together and focused on doing what we had to do to get the aircraft down safely, which is exactly what we are trained to do."

Passengers praised the crew's handling of the incident, but some also said not all the oxygen masks worked properly. "The elastic was so old that it had deteriorated. I was trying to get my passport, and every time I got my passport the mask fell off and I started to pass out," David Saunders, an architect, told The Sunday Age paper in Melbourne. In some parts of the cabin the masks failed to drop down at all, he said.

"A guy just went into a panic and smashed the whole panel off the ceiling to get to the mask," he said. "The kids were screaming and flailing. Their cheeks and lips were turning blue from lack of oxygen." As the incident was in international air space, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is leading the probe. The US Federal Aviation Administration is also involved, along with the plane's manufacturer Boeing.

A preliminary report is expected in about 30 days. *AFP