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Qantas Flight QF72 In-flight Upset

Posted in Cabin Crew News, QantasNo comments

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a preliminary report about an accident last month involving a Qantas A330-300 aircraft in which a number of people were injured. The aircraft, operating as Qantas Flight QF72, was en route from Singapore to Perth, Australia with 10 crew and 303 passengers on board when it experienced two successive in-flight upsets. The aircraft diverted to Learmonth, Western Australia, where it made an emergency landing. One flight attendant and at least 13 passengers were seriously injured and many others experienced less serious injuries, according to the ATSB. Most of the injuries involved passengers who were seated without their seatbelts fastened.

While the newly released report focuses primarily on what happened on the flight deck, and the results of the ATSB’s early examination of systems data from the accident aircraft, the report devotes several pages to what happened in the passenger cabin during the emergency, damage to the cabin, and injuries sustained by crew members and passengers.

The upset happened while the aircraft was cruising at 37,000 feet. In describing the sequence of events, the ATSB report notes that at the time the emergency began, the first officer (F/O) had just left the flight deck for a scheduled rest break. The captain and second officer (S/O) were on the flight deck when things began to go awry. The captain asked the S/O to call the F/O back to the flight deck, and while the S/O was on the interphone asking the flight attendant to send the F/O back to the flight deck, “the aircraft abruptly pitched nose-down.”

The aircraft descended 650 ft. The crew described the movement as “very abrupt, but smooth. It did not have the characteristics of a typical turbulence-related event and the aircraft’s movement was solely in the pitching plane.”

The seatbelt sign was then illuminated and the S/O made a public address for passengers and crew to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts immediately. A few minutes after the first event, the aircraft commenced a second uncommanded pitch-down event. This time the aircraft descended about 400 ft.

The ATSB report says [pp. 2-4]:
The captain announced to the cabin for passengers and crew to remain seated with seatbelts fastened. The second officer made another call on the cabin interphone to get the first officer back to the flight deck. The first officer returned to the flight deck at 1248. After discussing the situation, the crew decided that they needed to land the aircraft as soon as possible. They were not confident that further pitch-down events would not occur. They were also aware that there had been some injuries in the cabin, but at that stage they were not aware of the extent of the injuries.

[The crew then made an] emergency broadcast to air traffic control, advising that they had experienced ‘flight control computer problems’ and that some people had been injured. They requested a clearance to divert to and track direct to Learmonth, WA. Clearance to divert and commence descent was received from air traffic control.

…The flight crew spoke to a flight attendant by interphone to get further information on the extent of the injuries. The flight crew advised the cabin crew that, due to the nature of the situation, they did not want them to get out of their seats, but to use the cabin interphones to gather the information.
After the cabin crew advised the flight deck of several serious injuries, the crew declared a MAYDAY and made a emergency landing at Learmonth.

Injuries

Quoting again from the ATSB report [p. 5]:
Initial information provided to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) was that 14 people were taken by air ambulance to Perth. Injuries were considered serious, but not life threatening, and included concussion and broken bones. In addition, up to 30 other people attended hospital with possible concussion, minor lacerations and fractures, with up to a further 30 or so people with minor bruises and stiff necks who did not need to attend hospital.

Subsequent information indicates that one flight attendant and at least 13 passengers were admitted to hospital. The nature and extent of the injuries varied considerably, including injuries listed above and spinal injuries.

At the time of the first in-flight upset event, three flight attendants and the first officer were standing in the forward galley and one flight attendant had just left that galley. The first officer and two of the attendants received minor injuries and the other was uninjured. Four of the flight attendants were preparing to leave the crew rest area (four seats located near the Left 3 door), and all received minor injuries. A flight attendant standing in the rear galley received serious injuries.

Information has been obtained from over 10 per cent of the passengers to date. Based on this information, almost all of the passengers who were seated without seatbelts fastened received either serious or minor injuries during the first in-flight upset. Many of these passengers impacted the ceiling panels. Most of the passengers who had their seatbelts fastened were uninjured, although some received minor injuries. Passengers who were standing at the time of the first in-flight upset received either serious or minor injuries.
Damage

There was no structural damage to the aircraft, however the ATSB report had this to say about the passenger cabin [pp. 5-6]:
Inspection of the aircraft interior revealed damage mainly in the centre and rear sections of the passenger cabin. The level of damage varied significantly. Much of the damage was in the area of the personal service units above each passenger seat, and adjacent panels. The damage was typically consistent with that resulting from an impact by a person or object. There was evidence of damage above approximately 10 per cent of the seats in the centre section of the cabin, and above approximately 20 per cent of the seats in the rear section of the cabin. In addition, some ceiling panels above the cabin aisle-ways had evidence of impact damage, and many had been dislodged from their fixed position.

Oxygen masks had deployed from above nine of the seats where there had been damage to overhead personal service units or adjacent panels. Some of the cabin portable oxygen cylinders and some of the aircraft first aid kits had been deployed.
The report includes photos of damage to the ceiling panels above passenger seats, and in the aisle.

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