Passengers heard bangs, saw smoke on Qantas flight
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 9:00 PM
SINGAPORE -- First came two quick bangs. Then, on the left side of the Qantas superjumbo jet, passengers saw flames, a stream of smoke and debris from a stricken engine. A gouge scarred the top of the Airbus 380's left wing, scorch marks were on the outside of the blown-out engine and part of its cover depicting the airline's familiar red kangaroo logo had fallen off during the flight over Indonesia.
After a tense 95 minutes while the pilots dumped fuel, the massive, double-decker plane - the world's largest - returned safely Thursday to Singapore, where it made an emergency landing with 459 people aboard.
Qantas and Singapore Airlines grounded their Airbus A380 jetliners after Rolls-Royce, which manufactured the engines, recommended a series of checks.
Lufthansa grounded its A380 scheduled to depart Frankfurt for Johannesburg while it checked the engines, and instead used an A340-600 on the route, spokesman Boris Ogursky said. Lufthansa plans to fly the A380 from Frankfurt to Tokyo as scheduled on Friday, he added.
The failure of the No. 2 engine - one of four on the jet - was the most serious in-flight incident involving the A380 since it debuted in 2007 with Singapore Airlines flying it to Sydney. That's the same route that Thursday's Qantas Flight QF34 was making.
Passengers praised the Qantas crew for their reassuring announcements.
"Panic would have broken out, but the crew kept people updated and were behaving as if it (the situation) was so trivial," said Matthew Hewitt, a 25-year-old engineer from Manchester in Britain. "The crew was so calm."
Experts said the problem appeared to be an "uncontained engine failure," which occurs when turbine debris punctures the engine casing and the light cowling that covers the unit.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce appeared to blame the engines, made by Rolls-Royce.
"This issue, an engine failure, has been one that we haven't seen before. So we are obviously taking it very seriously because it is a significant engine failure," he told a Sydney news conference where he announced Qantas was grounding its six A380s.
The risk isn't so much from the loss of engine power because the A380 had three other engines to rely on, said former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia. Rather, the concern is that hot metal parts could shoot out from the engine much like shrapnel and pierce the fuselage, perhaps leading to rapid depressurization, or puncture fuel lines in the wings, possibly starting a fire, he said.
The damage on the upper side of the left wing appeared to be just behind its leading edge, an area that is actually hollow and abuts the landing-gear bay.