What happens to people who don’t strap in

Qantas A330 after upset.jpg

An interim report on the Qantas Airbus A330 upset last October is out today. As you’ll perhaps recall the investigation is focusing on the ADIRU issues and their underlying causes. You can read the whole thing here. However, I encourage you to take a look at the excerpt below containing the pretty detailed account of what happened to the 303 passengers – particularly the ones who were not strapped in, 91% of whom were injured.

I realise this was not turbulence – but the same point applies. If you do nothing else to protect yourself in an aircraft, strap in.

Passenger seating disposition

There were 297 passenger seats on the aircraft: 30 located in business class (rows 1

to 5, between doors 1 and 2), 148 in the centre of the aircraft (rows 23 to 41,

between doors 2 and 3), and 119 in the rear of the aircraft (rows 45 to 60, between

doors 3 and 4).

The 303 passengers included three infants who were seated with a parent for the

takeoff. Three of the passengers on staff travel arrangements were located on nonpassenger

seats for takeoff; one in the fourth occupant seat on the flight deck and

two in the cabin crew rest area (four seats located in rows 40 and 41). During the

flight, the two passengers seated in the cabin crew rest area moved to the cabin

crew jump seats located at the front of the aircraft.

At the time of the in-flight upsets, the meal service had been completed and the

service carts were secured in the galleys. Many passengers reported that they had

recently returned from or were in the process of going to the toilets.

34 Low-frequency radiated susceptibility tests require very specialised transmitting equipment that

was not available to the investigation. In practice, low frequency susceptibility is usually

evaluated using conducted emissions as that method is both practical and representative of actual

low-frequency electromagnetic coupling.

- 39 -

Passenger questionnaire

A passenger questionnaire was developed to obtain information from passengers

about their experience and observations during the upset events. It also included

questions on safety information, use of seatbelts, injuries and use of personal

electronic devices. The questionnaire could be completed electronically or on a hard

copy form, or by interview if requested by the passenger.

Distribution of the questionnaire commenced on 28 October 2008. It was not able to

be sent to all passengers as contact details were incomplete.

As of 26 January 2009, 95 surveys had been received. Those surveys also included

details for six children. In addition to the surveys, the ATSB obtained some

information by interview or email from 29 other adult passengers, which included

information for 11 other children. In the survey responses and additional

information received, some passengers provided information about other


Multiple attempts were made to contact passengers who were seriously injured or

attended hospital and did not respond to the survey. However, information from a

small number of those passengers was not able to be obtained.

Passenger description of first in-flight upset

Passengers reported that they noticed nothing unusual about the flight prior to the

upset. Some passengers and cabin crew reported that, a few minutes prior to the

upset, they noticed a reduction in thrust, whereas some other passengers described a

slight change in the aircraft’s flight similar to the commencement of the descent for

landing. Both of those observations were consistent with the aircraft’s descent from

37,200 ft back down to 37,000 ft following the autopilot disconnect.

Passengers reported that the upset occurred without any prior warning. They first

noticed a sudden movement of the aircraft, generally described as a ‘drop’ or a

‘pitch down’. Many passengers and loose items were thrown upwards, and many of

these hit ceiling panels or overhead lockers.

General injury information

In addition to information obtained from passengers, basic information on

passenger injuries was obtained from the Western Australia Department of Health

and the operator. A review of the available data identified the following:

• Almost all of the injuries occurred at the time of the first in-flight upset.

• Of the 106 passengers known to be injured, seven were located in the front

section of the aircraft, 55 located in the centre section, and 44 were located in

the rear section.

• Of the 51 passengers who attended hospital, 32 were located in the centre

section and 19 were located in the rear section.

• Of the 11 passengers who were seriously injured, seven were located in the

centre section and four were located in the rear section. The severity of injuries

of both those who attended hospital and those who did not attend hospital,

varied considerably.

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Seated passengers

Based on the information provided by passengers, 82 passengers were seated with

seatbelts fastened and 61 were seated without seatbelts fastened. Although most of

the remaining passengers would have been seated, there was no information

available regarding whether they had their seatbelts fastened. Therefore, the overall

compliance rate for wearing seatbelts could not be reliably estimated. However,

information obtained from many of the passengers suggested that there were more

than 61 passengers who did not have their seatbelts on at the time of the first inflight


For the passengers reported to have their seatbelts fastened:

• 35 per cent of those passengers were reported to be injured and 13 per cent

attended hospital.

• The most common type of injury was a strain / sprain of the neck or back. Some

passengers reported injuries due to being hit by another person or by an object,

or bruises due to hitting arm rests.

• Two of the passengers received serious injuries. One of those passengers was a

child who received abdominal contusions from a seatbelt. The other passenger

experienced a stroke three days after the flight.

For the passengers reported to not have their seatbelts fastened:

• 91 per cent of the passengers were reported to be injured and 38 per cent

attended hospital.

• The most common type of injuries were head or neck injuries from hitting the

ceiling or overhead lockers, and bruising or other injuries of the back, legs or

other parts of the body when landing on a seat or the floor.

• Three of the passengers received serious injuries. Two received spinal injuries

and an infant received minor head injuries.

Four passengers reported that, even though they were wearing seatbelts, they were

not restrained in their seats and they subsequently hit the ceiling or were thrown

from their seat. Three of those passengers advised that they had their seatbelts

loosely fastened and one advised they had their seatbelt firmly fastened.

Non-seated passengers

Eighteen passengers were reported to have been standing or walking in the cabin at

the time of the first upset. Most of them were reported to be on their way to or from

a toilet and some were attending to children. All of those passengers were injured,

and 67 per cent attended hospital. Four of the standing / walking passengers

received serious injuries. All of the seriously injured received multiple injuries,

including spinal injuries.

Two passengers were reported to be in toilets at the time of the first upset. One

passenger received serious injuries and the other attended hospital. Both passengers

experienced multiple injuries, including spinal injuries.

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Crew member injury details

At the time of the first in-flight upset event, three flight attendants and the first

officer were standing in the forward galley and one flight attendant had just left that

galley. The first officer and two of the attendants received minor injuries and the

other was uninjured.

Four of the flight attendants were in the cabin crew rest area at the time of the first

in-flight upset. They were all preparing to leave the crew rest area either because

their break was about to end or because they reported feeling something similar to

the ‘top of decent’ prior to the first in-flight upset. As a result, none had their

seatbelts fastened at the time.

Another flight attendant was standing in the rear galley at the time of the first inflight

upset and received serious injuries.

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