Aviation safety investigations & reports

Birdstrike and inflight vibration involving Boeing 747-438 ER, VH-OEH near San Francisco International Airport, United States, on 6 October 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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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.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 825KB]
Alternate: [Download  DOCX: 736KB]

The occurrence

Safety analysis


Sources and submissions


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General details
Date: 06 October 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 23:30 UTC   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near San Francisco International Airport, USA    
State: International   Occurrence type: Airframe - Other  
Release date: 29 June 2017   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

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  
Last update 14 November 2018