Aviation safety investigations & reports

Boeing 737-376, VH-TAW, Cairns QLD, 18 November 1990

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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A report was received that indicated that a jet aircraft struck power lines during an approach to land on Runway 33 at Cairns Airport. The resident of a house approximately 600 metres from the threshold of Runway 33 and on the extended centreline, claimed to have seen what she described as the wheels of the aircraft hitting the power lines after overflying her house during its approach to the runway. Examination of the particular aircraft showed no evidence of it having been in contact with the wires and the pilot reported that the approach was normal. The aircraft flight path was reconstructed using data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder, and this indicated that the height of the aircraft above the ground at the position of the failed powerline was approximately 50 metres. The height of the wires at mid span is approximately 8.6 metres, and the pole height is approximately 9.5 metres. Extensive checks did not reveal any evidence to support the resident's claim. The wires which were allegedly struck by the aircraft wheels showed no evidence of damage. The Far North Queensland Electricity Board (FNQEB) did receive a report of lines down in the area shortly after the arrival of the aircraft. However, the affected lines were not adjacent to the resident's house, but were around the corner in the adjoining street some 75 metres away. The damaged wires had been in contact with each other resulting in an explosion, and a blackout in the area. Separators are sometimes fitted to prevent wires from touching, and have since been placed on the affected wires when they were repaired. The adjoining span had been similarly da ed in the past, and it al so had bee n fitted wi th s eparators to p reven t a recurr ence. The c aus e of the wires f usin g t oget her could no t b e p osit iv ely d etermined, bu t was pr obabl y t he resu lt of wake tu rbulence ( wi ng t ip vortic es ) generated by th e aircraft passin g ove rhe ad. Win gtip vor tices are n arrow horizontal whirlw inds r ota ting in oppo site di rect ions and stream ing r earwards from each win gtip. The wingtip vortices of large aircraft are most intense when the aircraft is flying at low speed with high lift devices extended, such as during an approach to land. The vortices tend to settle behind the generating aircraft and then spread out laterally upon reaching the ground. Under the conditions prevailing on the night of the occurrence, a light wind straight down the runway, it is likely that the vortices developed and caused the power lines to come into contact.

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General details
Date: 18 November 1990   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 2038    
Location: Cairns    
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Miscellaneous - Other  
Release date: 13 December 1990   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer The Boeing Company  
Aircraft model 737  
Aircraft registration VH-TAW  
Serial number 23488  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Brisbane QLD  
Departure time N/K  
Destination Cairns QLD