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Quantas Flight Experiences Small Fuselage Explosion

I fly on Quantas quite a bit thus I definitely take notice when I see a story like this:

Australian investigators on Saturday began examining a Qantas jumbo jet which had to make an emergency landing after a large hole opened on its fuselage, a Philippine aviation official said.

The Boeing 747-400 was cruising at 29,000 feet with 346 passengers Friday when it was shaken by an explosive bang. The plane descended rapidly before landing safely minutes later at the Manila airport.

There were no injuries among the passengers and crew, but some of the passengers suffered nausea.

Ruben Ciron, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said four specialists from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau were still inspecting the aircraft to determine what caused the damage.

Qantas Chief Executive Officer Geoff Dixon told reporters Saturday he was “horrified” after seeing pictures of the aircraft’s gaping hole. He said it was too early to speculate on what caused the damage. [Associated Press]

Right now no one is sure what caused the explosion but no evidence of terrorism has been found.  Investigators though do have a pretty good idea what may have caused the explosion:

As passengers were reunited with loved ones, aviation experts offered several theories about possible causes of the mid-air explosion, including:

* Oxygen cylinders rupturing.

* Corrosion and weakening of the plane’s aluminium skin, making it susceptible to bursting under the enormous pressure of cruising at altitude.

* A deliberate or accidental explosion caused by something in a passenger’s luggage.

However, a source close to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority said exploding oxygen cylinders were the likely cause of the rupture, and would be the main focus of the investigation, as they were stored in the exact location of the explosion and there were no signs of fire. [The Age]

These types of explosive decompression incidents have happened before and will probably happen again but what is good to see is that despite the decompression the airplane did not crumble and make a larger hole like in other similar incidents.

Aftermath of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 in 1988.

Passengers though were furious about the malfunctioning the airplane’s oxygen masks:

St Kilda architect David Saunders described the moments after the explosion as utter panic.

“The oxygen masks were f—-d,” Mr Saunders told The Sunday Age at Melbourne International Airport, after an emotional reunion with his mother and sister.

“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.”

In some parts of the cabin, the masks didn’t drop down at all: “A guy just went into a panic and smashed the whole panel off the ceiling to get to the mask.

“The kids were screaming and flailing … Their cheeks and lips were turning blue from lack of oxygen.” [The Age]

Definitely not a good sign about the safety procedures over at Quantas especially considering other recent safety scares:

The 17-year-old aircraft, a late-middle-aged member of the airline’s fleet, last underwent heavy maintenance at Qantas facilities at Avalon in Victoria. Incidents involving explosive decompression are extremely rare, with less than six on record for commercial aircraft.

Qantas, which has been embroiled in a pay dispute with maintenance engineers, has an enviable safety record, having never lost a jet to an accident, but it has had its share of scares.

In January, a Boeing 747 carrying 344 people from London lost all main electrical power and was forced to land on battery back-up.

In February, a Qantas 717 with 84 passengers on board sustained what the Australian Transport Safety Bureau described as “substantial damage” when it landed heavily in Darwin. [The Australian]

I am actually flying to Hong Kong on Quantas from Melbourne next month.  I wonder if they will let me carry on my own oxygen bottle after reading about all this?

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