'We have a big hole' - terror hits flight from London

Peter Woodman,Pa
Friday 25 July 2008 09:07
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Passengers on a packed jumbo jet flight from London spoke today of their terror after a gaping hole appeared in the plane as it headed for Australia.

Some passengers vomited when oxygen masks had to be used as the Melbourne-bound Qantas Boeing 747 plane prepared to make an emergency landing at Manila in the Philippines.

Passengers spoke of hearing a loud bang and debris flying into the first class cabin as the plane's flooring gave way, part of the ceiling collapsed and the plane reportedly plunged 20,000ft.

The aircraft touched down safely at Manila at 11.15am local time and all 346 passengers and 19 crew disembarked normally.

Manila airport operations officer Ding Lima told local radio the plane lost cabin pressure shortly after take-off on the Hong Kong to Melbourne leg of its journey and the pilot radioed for an emergency landing.

He said: "There is a big hole in the belly of the aircraft near the right wing, about three metres in diameter.

"Upon disembarkation, there were some passengers who vomited. You can see in their faces that they were really scared."

Dr June Kane, from Melbourne, said: "There was a terrific boom and bits of wood and debris just flew forward into first (class) and the oxygen masks dropped down.

"On the left-hand side, just forward of the wing, there's a gaping hole from the wing to the underbody. It's about two metres by four metres and there's baggage hanging out, so you assume that there's a few bags that may have gone missing.

"It was absolutely terrifying, but I have to say everyone was very calm."

Watch amateur footage from inside the plane

Peter Gibson, from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority, told ABC Radio that initial reports indicated a problem with air pressure in the cabin.

He said: "The pilot has some pressurisation warnings about a door on the left-hand side of the aircraft, but exactly what went wrong is still being determined."

Brendan McClements, chief executive of the Victorian Major Events Company, said: "We were flying out of Hong Kong, heard a very loud noise, a bang.

"There was a sort of rapid expulsion of wind. It went out of the plane, the air got sucked out, the oxygen masks dropped down and we put them on.

"Where I was sitting wasn't ideal, by no means ideal. But actually it was very well handled by the Qantas staff - that is the thing that stood out to me. They did a very good job of keeping everyone calm, keeping it under control.

"After we landed, there was a very large hole that wasn't there when we took off in Hong Kong."

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said: "All 346 passengers and 19 crew disembarked normally and there were no reports of any injuries to passengers or crew."

He added that the flight crew performed emergency procedures after oxygen masks were deployed. Initial inspections revealed the aircraft sustained a hole in its fuselage, and it was being inspected by engineers.

Mr Dixon said: "The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority have been notified of the incident and Qantas is sending its own engineers to Manila.

"Qantas has provided all passengers with accommodation and a replacement aircraft has been arranged."

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