Qantas explosion could happen again

August 30, 2008

AN EXPLODING oxygen tank was responsible for blowing a gaping hole in the side of a Qantas jet last month, a preliminary report into the incident has found.

But investigators are yet to determine why the tank exploded and could not rule out that it would happen again.

The report, by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, released yesterday, found the tank failed and burst, blasting through the cabin floor from a storage area between business and economy class seats on a Hong Kong to Melbourne flight, forcing an emergency landing in Manila on July 5.

Safety investigators said passengers and crew were extremely lucky not to have been injured by the exploding oxygen tank.

All 346 passengers and 19 crew aboard the flight escaped injury when the Boeing 747-400 made the emergency landing after the mid-air explosion tore a three-metres hole in its fuselage.

“The cylinder had been propelled upward by the force of the discharge, puncturing the floor and entering the cabin adjacent to the second main doors,” the bureau report said.

It said the cylinder hit the door, its handle and overhead panelling before leaving the aircraft through the ruptured fuselage.

A photo of the impact area showed the projectile came through the floor near the base of the door where a jump seat for a cabin crew member is located.

“The passengers were obviously very lucky,” bureau investigator Julian Walsh said.

“These oxygen bottles are actually quite robust so it would take some significant force to do some damage like that.

“There’s nothing at this stage that the ATSB can identify that could have been done to prevent this, we don’t really know why the bottle failed – that’s the key question for the investigation.” The inquiry continues.

Mr Walsh said it would be difficult to learn what happened to the damaged cylinder because it was not available to examine.

He said he was not aware of a similar occurrence in aviation history but could not rule out such an event happening again.

“Anything’s possible, it’s certainly a rare event but no one can discount the possibility of those sort of things happening,” Mr Walsh said.

The safety bureau team is attempting to survey all of the passengers on board the flight.

During the incident, oxygen masks were deployed and the pilot initiated a rapid emergency descent, before making the trouble-free emergency landing at Manila’s airport.

“As far as we can tell from all the information that’s available to us the crew have pretty much done a textbook response,” Mr Walsh said.

The chief executive of Qantas, Geoff Dixon, said he backed the safety bureau’s report. “Our own investigations agree with the ATSB’s preliminary conclusions,” he said.

Qantas had completed an inspection of the oxygen systems across its 747-400 fleet on August 1, which confirmed there were no safety issues, Mr Dixon said.

The aircraft involved in the Manila incident was repairable at a cost of less than $10 million and would be back in service in November 2008.

Despite the seriousness of the incident, Qantas remained proud of its excellent safety reputation, Mr Dixon said.

(source : the sydney morning herald)

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