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What happened

On 6 October 2016, a Boeing 747-438 ER, registered VH-OEH and operated by Qantas International, departed San Francisco International Airport, United States, for a flight to Sydney, Australia. Soon after departure and during the climb, the crew became aware of an abnormal vibration in the area of the left over-wing door. There were no cockpit indications or associated procedures to manage the observed vibration. Consequently, the flight crew were required to use their professional judgement to assess its impact on the flight. The crew utilised available crew resources and maintenance expertise to troubleshoot and assess that the flight could safely continue to Sydney.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that during departure from San Francisco International airport, and unbeknown to the flight crew, the aircraft sustained impact damage from a birdstrike. The birdstrike sheared a landing gear door strut resulting in the door not closing. That in turn led to turbulent airflow and in‑cabin vibration.

What’s been done as a result

While the birdstrike resulted in a landing gear door not closing, the overall impact on the flight was minimal. Larger doors that have the potential to cause damage have warning systems to indicate if they have not operated as selected.

There was no additional wear or damage to any of the landing gear components. The landing gear door strut was replaced and the aircraft returned to service.

Safety message

This occurrence highlights that, even with the assistance of sophisticated technology and systems, flight crew may experience situations that can only be managed using their professional judgement.

In this case, the flight crew utilised the support of both on-ground maintenance personnel and cabin crew to methodically troubleshoot the source of the vibration and assess that the flight could be safely continued to the destination airport.

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The occurrence

Safety analysis


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General details
Date: 06 October 2016 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 23:30 UTC Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):near San Francisco International Airport, USA Occurrence type:Airframe - Other 
State: International Occurrence class: Operational 
Release date: 29 June 2017 Occurrence category: Incident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: None 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: The Boeing Company 
Aircraft model: 747-438 
Aircraft registration: VH-OEH 
Serial number: 32912 
Operator: Qantas Airways 
Type of operation: Air Transport High Capacity 
Sector: Jet 
Damage to aircraft: Minor 
Departure point:San Francisco, USA
Destination:Sydney, NSW
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Last update 29 June 2017