Eyewitness accounts: 'There was a loud bang, passengers were shaken. I'm just happy to be alive'
Friday 05 November 2010
The seatbelt signs were still on when passengers on Qantas flight QF32 became aware that something was amiss. Just six minutes after the plane – the largest commercial aeroplane in the world – had left Singapore's Changi airport on its eight hour flight to Sydney, an explosion shook the cabin.
From the wing on the left side came a puff of white smoke, followed by flames and then debris flying from the rapidly disintegrating engine. Next a hole appeared on the wing as the metalwork began to peel, exposing wiring beneath.
The pilots were made aware of the situation by cabin crew, although at first appeared unaware of the fright the passengers had been given. Mike Tooke, a British passenger, said that while those near the back of the plane experienced "a very loud bang and quite a lot of vibration", the pilots had told those on board that they had only felt "a small jolt".
Lars Sandberg, a DJ from Glasgow who was sitting over the wing, next to the troubled engine said: "People around me were visibly shaken and we all realised that whatever happened wasn't normal. There was a mother with two children who was quite worried."
But while the fear was tangible, the passengers did not panic. Mr Tooke said: "Everyone let out a large gasp. Everyone knew something was wrong. But the passengers were actually very calm."
Ulf Waschbusch, a Singapore-based businessman, said that after the explosion the eerie quiet was punctuated only by the crying of babies and some nervous laughter.
The pilots announced that engine two had stopped. The Airbus A380 – christened the Nancy Bird Walton – which departed for Sydney at 9.56am was preparing for an emergency landing in Singapore just after 10am.
But, first it had to dump fuel. The pilot told passengers the plane was too heavy to land. The plane circled above Singapore for an hour.
Sue Wooster, from Melbourne, told Australia's Channel Seven news: "You were waiting for what was going to happen next – is the plane going to go down and the engines going to stop running?"
Matt Hewitt, from Cheshire, said he was nervous. "I certainly was. Everyone was. But the flight crew was very reassuring that we were going to be fine. They were running all their checks before we could land. They were following procedures.
"Nobody panicked. Those people who were actually panicking, who were initially upset, were soon comforted that everything was going to be all right."
Meanwhile, on the ground, the Indonesian Island of Batam was showered with plane parts. Indra Kurniawan told the BBC World Service: "We heard an explosion. Then I saw rubbish in the sky but after one of the pieces hit our school, we all knew it was debris from the plane."
In the air, pilots spoke to passengers every five minutes via the public address system to reassure them. Shortly after 11.30am, the plane was light enough to land.
Neil Shephard, a former aircraft engineer said: "During the landing it was a bit wobbly. The pilot did a good job, it could have been worse." Mr Sandberg added: "The landing was quite smooth, although the plane felt a bit heavy."
As the plane touched down at 11.46am, passengers cheered with relief. Mr Waschbusch added: "There was immediately rapture, shouting and crying. It was an amazing sight."
But the ordeal was not over. Mr Waschbusch said: "We didn't feel quite safe at the moment of touchdown because you've got rolling all the way to the end of the runway. We then parked and we were still leaking fuel from the engine so firefighters came and had to take care of the fuel leak. We had to stay on the plane for about 30 minutes."
Rosemary Hegardy, 60, from Sydney, added: "We were still sceptical about what was going on and we just wanted to exit."
When they were finally taken off the plane, the reality of their near-miss became clear as the 433 passengers were led past the remains of the engine which had failed. Mr Shephard said: "We could not tell the extent of the problem until we got out of the plane where we could see one hole about six to seven inches wide on the wing."
Mr Sandberg said: "When we got off and saw the engine and the back casing burnt off, that was pretty scary. It was a nerve-wracking experience and I feel a little bit shaken up. I'm just happy to be alive."
After a night in a Singapore hotel, the plane, which originated in London, was due to land in Australia this morning.
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