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
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

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Day In a Page

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada