Friday, July 25, 2008

Big hole in fuselage prompts Qantas flight to makes emergency stop in Manila

Associated Press

See what it was like inside the plane from a passenger's camera
Relief after Qantas flight lands MANILA, Philippines — A Qantas jumbo jet carrying 345 passengers made an emergency landing today with a gaping hole in its fuselage after a mysterious "explosive decompression," officials said.

There were no injuries, but some passengers vomited after disembarking the Boeing 747-400, said Octavio Lina, Manila International Airport Authority deputy manager for operations.

The cabin's floor gave way, he said, exposing some of the cargo beneath and part of the ceiling collapsed.

"There is a big hole on the right side near the wing," he said, adding it was 7 1/2 feet to 9 feet in diameter.

Flight QF 30, from London to Melbourne, had just made a stopover in Hong Kong. Passengers who talked to the media at the airport described hearing an explosion, and then oxygen masks were released.

"One hour into the flight there was a big bang, then the plane started going down," passenger Marina Scaffidi, 39, from Melbourne, told The Associated Press by phone from Manila airport. "There was wind swirling around the plane and some condensation."

She said the hole extended from the cargo hold into the passenger cabin.

"No one was very hysterical," she said.

June Kane of Melbourne described how parts of the plane's interior broke apart in the depressurized cabin.

"There was a terrific boom and bits of wood and debris just flew forward into first (class) and the oxygen masks dropped down," she told Australia's ABC Radio. "It was absolutely terrifying, but I have to say everyone was very calm."

Video shot by a passenger showed people sitting with their oxygen masks on — just-served meals on their tray tables — as the plane descended quickly to 10,000 feet en route to an emergency landing at Manila's international airport. Cabin crew continued to work, walking down the aisles and showing no sign of panic.

Applause erupted as the plane touched down safely.

Geoff Dixon, the chief executive officer of Qantas, praised the pilots and the rest of the 19-person crew for how they handled the incident.

"This was a highly unusual situation and our crew responded with the professionalism that Qantas is known for," he said.

Qantas — Australia's largest domestic and international airline — boasts a strong safety record and has never lost a jet to an accident, although there were crashes of smaller planes, the last in 1951.

However, the airline has had a few scares in recent years. In February 2008, a Qantas 717 with 84 passengers on board sustained substantial damage in a heavy landing in Darwin, Australia.

In addition, union engineers — who have held several strikes this year to demand pay raises — say that safety is being compromised by low wages and overtime work.

A report by the Manila International Airport Authority, quoting pilot John Francis Bartels, said the plane on Friday suffered an "explosive decompression." Australia's air-safety investigator said an initial investigation suggested "a section of the fuselage separated."

The passengers were taken to several hotels while waiting for another plane to Melbourne late today, Wantas said. The plane was towed to a hangar in Manila.

Chief Superintendent Atilano Morada, head of the police Aviation Security Group, said his officers, including explosives experts, may assist in the airline's investigation.

"So far, they don't want us to touch it, so we will respect the aircraft owner. But we will make our personnel available if they need assistance in the investigation," he said.

Qantas touts itself as the world's second-oldest airline, founded in 1920. As of December 2007, Qantas was operating 216 aircraft flying to 140 destinations in 37 countries, though in recent months it has announced it will retire some aircraft and cancel some routes — as well as cutting 1,500 jobs worldwide — due to skyrocketing fuel prices.

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