The approach to runway 20C at Singapore was a cliffhanger. The crew did not know whether they could trust the performance calculations they had done because they understood they couldn’t possibly know the full extent of the aerodynamic damage the aircraft had suffered.
QF32 – the book (pt 3): approach and landing
By David Learmount on 12 July, 2012 in Uncategorised
So Richard chose to ask Singapore for a 20nm straight in final approach, starting at 4,000ft, and when he reached that height and achieved the 165 to 168kt indicated airspeed they had calculated for the approach, he carried out a careful manual test of control inputs to see what response the aircraft would give him, and got adequate results.
So they began the approach, which delivered some chilling moments. One of the most tense for the crew was the nearly two minutes it took for the gear to drop by gravity, deprived as it was of hydraulic power to lower it.
I’ll leave the book to tell you what it was like.
And it got even more interesting when the aircraft was on the ground, halted at the upwind end of runway 20C, the lacerated wing tanks spewing fuel into a spreading puddle of kerosine under the left wing, near the near white-hot brakes. Since the aircraft had landed without any further significant damage, and an emergency evacuation would have had many of its own risks, Richard had decided to keep the passengers on board while the fire crews stabilised the situation outside.
The pilots, unexpectedly, had no radio following engine shut-down, so they could not talk to the fire crews. They couldn’t understand why the fire crew were standing back for no apparent reason, and were not spraying the leaking fuel with foam or the brakes with water..
The problem was that the No 1 engine was still operating at fairly high power, endangering the fire crews, but there were no indications in the flight deck that it had failed to shut down when the crew had carried out all available shut-down actions. The engine was operating autonomously.
So there were 7 long minutes before communications were established, the fire crews were briefed on the problem with the engine, and they started to make the fuel and brakes safe.
Then came the fascinating interplay, with limited communications and long distances involved, between the flight crew, cabin crew, passengers, the airport staff, Qantas crisis management centre, and the worried relatives all over the world watching the drama play out in real time on television screens. It was 1h 50min before the passengers were off the aircraft, and that wasn’t the end of the ordeal for any of them.
Much later, after everyone had dispersed, the effects of the ordeal kicked in, and the crews could not have known in advance how they would feel or react.
Do you have the energy for this?
The book will be released on 24 July.
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