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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried