Superjumbo engine explodes in mid-air but all 459 on board escape

Qantas grounds entire Airbus A380 fleet for investigations as passengers say engine blew up and 'shot a hole through wing'

A mid-air explosion followed by a shower of debris led many to fear the worst yesterday for a Qantas Airbus A380 that had just taken off from Singapore. In the event, the plane made an emergency landing, trailing smoke from a blackened engine – and raising questions about the superjumbo's safety.

The Australian airline grounded its entire Airbus A380 fleet after flight QF32 developed engine trouble just minutes into a flight to Sydney. Both passengers and witnesses on the ground heard a loud explosion, and debris – including a chunk bearing Qantas's red-and-white kangaroo emblem – rained on the Indonesian city of Batam, on an island just south of Singapore.

The plane circled over Indonesian territory for nearly two hours, dumping fuel, before returning to Changi Airport. None of the 459 passengers and crew was injured, nor was anyone on the ground. But many people were badly shaken. Two passengers said they saw flames shooting out of the stricken left engine. Tyler Wooster told Australia's Channel Nine: "My whole body went to jelly, and I didn't know if we were going to be OK."

Hailed as the most exciting development in air travel since the jumbo jet, the A380 – the world's largest and newest passenger aircraft, with a capacity of 525 people – made its maiden flight on the same Singapore to Sydney route three years ago. Five airlines now fly the double-decker superjumbo, which was beset by production delays and cost over-runs following its much heralded launch in 2005.

Qantas, which is about to celebrate its 90th anniversary, has never had a fatal jet crash. The company's chief executive, Alan Joyce, said one of the plane's four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines had failed. He said A380 services would be suspended "until we are completely confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met".

Singapore Airlines, which also operates the A380, announced that it was delaying services using the aircraft. The other airlines that operate the plane – Emirates, Air France and Lufthansa – said they had no plans to follow suit. Airbus, which has staked its future on the A380, said the superjumbo could fly safely on three engines.

On Batam island, one witness told Agence France Presse he heard a "thunderous" sound and saw metal fall into a field. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is leading an investigation. Mr Wooster, who was sitting over the left wing, heard a "big bang". While he could not see the engine itself, he said: "I saw it shot a big hole through the wing... and you could see how the [skin of the] wing had peeled off."

The first serious problem to befall the giant plane, said to be the quietest and greenest aircraft in the skies, it follows a string of minor incidents. In September last year, a Singapore Airlines A380 had to turn around and head back to Paris following an engine malfunction, while in March a Qantas A380 burst two tyres on landing in Sydney from Singapore.

An Air France flight was forced back to New York a year ago after problems with its navigation system, while in August a Lufthansa crew shut down an engine as a precaution before landing at Frankfurt on a flight from Japan.

Speaking in Sydney, Mr Joyce appeared to blame yesterday's events on Rolls-Royce. "The 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 failure." For its part, the engine-maker said it would work with Qantas to identify what went wrong.

Experts said the problem appeared to be an "uncontained engine failure", which occurs when turbine debris punctures the engine casing.

At Changi, six fire engines surrounded the plane and sprayed it when it made its forced landing. Witnesses said a left engine was charred and the rear cowling – which covers the engine – was missing. The upper part of the left wing appeared to be damaged.

Passengers were evacuated via a stepladder. Ulf Waschbusch, a technology executive based in Singapore, said: "Everyone was surprisingly calm on the plane. The crew helped tremendously." Residents in Batam helped authorities pick up more than 100 pieces of debris, some the size of doors.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable