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Virgin Australia crew hailed for handling ATR 72 smoke incident

Corrected: Original story wrongly stated that the flight crew detected smoke in the cabin. In fact, they detected smoke in the cockpit.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has commended the response of the crew of a Virgin Australia ATR 72-600 to a cockpit smoke incident that required a diversion.

On 22 February 2017 the aircraft (VH-VPJ) was operating a Port Macquarie-Sydney service in the early afternoon, with four crew and 23 passengers on-board.

Twenty minutes into the flight, the flight crew detected smoke in the cockpit, donned oxygen masks, and diverted to Newcastle.

The flight crew's masks caused their voices to be muffled when informing the cabin crew of the situation. This resulted in the cabin crew preparing the cabin for a depressurisation, not realising it was a smoke issue.

When the cabin crew seated themselves, they realised the discrepancy, but the cabin cards necessary for the smoke event procedure were inaccessible below one of the their seats.

"As the senior cabin crew was able to complete the required actions without reference to the cards, this did not impact on their ability to prepare the cabin for landing and the precautionary disembarkation," the ATSB says.

The aircraft landed safely at Newcastle and passengers and crew deplaned.

The smoke was traced to a known capacitor issue in the aircraft's number one static inverter. In the short-term, ATR says a retrofit programme with modified capacitors is underway across the fleet, while a complete redesign is in progress.

"This incident underlines the value of effective training and procedures," says ATSB. "Despite the communications difficulties and the inaccessible cabin preparation cards, the cabin crew were able to effectively prepare the cabin during the diversion and manage the subsequent precautionary disembarkation. This enabled all aircraft occupants to disembark the aircraft quickly and without injury."

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