On 8 November 2013, the captain and first officer operating a Qantas Boeing 767 aircraft, registered VH-OGU, prepared to conduct a scheduled passenger service from Melbourne, Victoria to Sydney, New South Wales. The crew obtained the relevant weather information, with no requirements for holding fuel or an alternate indicated.
During the descent into Sydney, the crew switched on the seatbelt sign at about 10,000 ft above mean sea level (AMSL). At about the same time, they observed lightning to the right of the aircraft’s track, with a corresponding red return on the aircraft’s weather radar display.
At about 2026 Eastern Daylight-savings Time, while on approach and descending through 4,200 ft AMSL, the aircraft encountered moderate turbulence for about 2 minutes. At about 3,000 ft AMSL, the crew elected to discontinue the approach, and conducted a missed approach. During the subsequent climb, passing about 4,200 ft AMSL, the aircraft encountered severe turbulence.
The crew reported that full go-around power was required to maintain altitude and speed, and they experienced difficulty controlling the aircraft. In the cabin, one passenger sustained a serious injury; one passenger sustained a minor rib injury and a third passenger sustained a minor injury from an iPad.
After orbiting for about 20 minutes, the crew commenced an approach to runway 16 Right. Passing about 5,000 ft AMSL, the aircraft again encountered severe turbulence and was difficult to control, and the crew again conducted a missed approach and commenced a turn to the north.
At about 2127, based on the remaining fuel quantity and the turbulence on the approach to Sydney, the crew declared a ‘PAN’ and elected to divert to Williamtown, New South Wales. The aircraft landed at Williamtown with fuel reserves intact.
This incident serves as a timely reminder to passengers to safely stow any carry-on baggage, laptops, iPads and other items correctly, as they can become projectiles during turbulence if not properly secured.