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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau was advised yesterday afternoon of an occurrence involving an Airbus A330-300 aircraft while on a flight from Singapore to Perth, operating as Qantas Flight 72. The aircraft, which had 303 passengers and 10 crew on board, was in normal level flight at 37,000 ft about 110 nautical miles north of Carnarvon and 80 nautical miles from Learmonth near Exmouth in north-western Australia, when the pilots received electronic centralised aircraft monitoring messages in the cockpit relating to some irregularity with the aircraft's elevator control system. The aircraft is reported to have departed level flight and climbed approximately 300 ft, during which time the crew had initiated non-normal checklist/response actions. The aircraft is then reported to have abruptly pitched nose-down. During this sudden and significant nose-down pitch, a number of passengers, cabin crew and loose objects were thrown about the aircraft cabin, primarily in the rear of the aircraft, resulting in a range of injuries to some cabin crew and passengers.

The crew made a PAN PAN emergency broadcast to air traffic control, advising that they had experienced flight control computer problems and that some people had been injured, and they requested a clearance to divert to and track direct to Learmonth. A few minutes later the crew declared a MAYDAY and advised ATC of multiple injures including broken bones and lacerations. The aircraft landed at about 1330 local time, about 40 minutes after the start of the event.

The ATSB understand that there were 14 people with serious but not life threatening injuries, which included concussion and broken bones who were taken by air ambulance to Perth. In addition, up to 30 other people attended hospital with possible concussion, minor lacerations and fractures, with up to a further 30 or so people with minor bruises and stiff necks etc who did not need to attend hospital. However, these casualty figures are subject to further clarification and confirmation. All passengers have been now been transported to Perth. Given the nature of injuries, the occurrence is defined as an accident in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization definition.

The ATSB has initiated a safety investigation and two investigators from the ATSB's Perth office travelled to Learmonth yesterday evening and commenced initial on-site investigation activities, which included securing the aircraft's Flight Data and Cockpit Voice recorders. A further five ATSB investigators are due to arrive in Learmonth early this afternoon Western Australia time

An officer from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority with a type rating on the A330 has joined the ATSB team. In addition, le Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses, or BEA of France, the French counterpart of the ATSB has assigned an accredited representative as the State of Design and Manufacture of the aircraft, to provide assistance to the ATSB investigation. An investigator who is a flight control specialist from the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, is currently travelling to Australia and will also assist the investigation team.

It is obviously very early in the investigation and too soon to draw any conclusions as to the specific cause of this accident. The ATSB investigation will explore all aspects of the operation of the aircraft, including through detailed examination of the Flight Data and Cockpit Voce recordings, aircraft systems and maintenance history, Air Traffic Control radar and audio recordings, and weather conditions. The ATSB will also be conducting a range of interviews with the pilots and cabin crew, and will also speak with passengers to examine the cabin safety aspects.

It is always difficult to predict how long an investigation such as this will take. While it is likely to take some number of months, the ATSB will release a Preliminary Factual report within about 30 days. Furthermore, should any critical safety issues emerge that require urgent attention, the ATSB will immediately bring such issues to the attention of the relevant authorities who are best placed to take prompt action to address those issues.

Without pre-empting any findings in relation to cabin safety issues and the wearing of seatbelts, this accident serves as a reminder to all people who travel by air of the importance of keeping seatbelts fastened at all times when seated in an aircraft.

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Last update 01 April 2011
 

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