Australia: Singapore Airlines plane "systems failures" : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Headline: Dual inquiry after plane's mid-air emergency fall

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2001


Air investigators yesterday checked the "black box" flight recorder of a Singapore Airlines plane which dropped 9,000 metres in a "controlled emergency descent" following a loss of cabin pressure after it left Sydney.

Flight SQ222, a Boeing 747-400 carrying 254 passengers and 19 crew, dropped from 12,000 metres to 3,000 metres in seven minutes when pressurisation was lost shortly after 6pm on Tuesday while it was in Australian air space.

Passengers had to use emergency oxygen masks while the plane flew back to Sydney Airport.

Paramedics treated passengers for ear problems. Ten were taken to three hospitals but discharged after outpatient treatment.

A spokesman said all but five passengers were flown to Singapore yesterday on three Singapore Airlines flights.

Three Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators inspected the grounded aircraft, along with airline engineers who flew in overnight from Singapore.

The safety bureau downloaded information from the flight data recorder and returned it to the engineers. The simultaneous investigations are expected to take up to three months.

An airline spokesman said the aircraft had also suffered "systems failures" which prevented it dumping fuel, forcing the captain to make a "heavy landing" with a full fuel load.

The five-month-old aircraft was due to be flown back to Singapore without passengers last night.

-- Andre Weltman (, November 07, 2001


[ "...By now, Flight 222 had a second problem. Its flight computer was malfunctioning, the likely cause of the depressurisation. But it was almost causing other instrumentation failures..." ]

Headline: This is not a drill: ordeal on Flight 222

One minute secure, the next confronted with the prospect of death, 254 passengers on SIA Flight 222 endured seven fearful minutes over NSW this week. Philip Cornford reports on their fate.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 10 November 2001


The only warning was a popping sensation in their ears. Then oxygen masks dropped out of their panels and dangled in front of their faces.

It was 5.46pm on Tuesday. In that moment, 254 passengers on Singapore Airlines Flight 222 out of Sydney were confronted with the worst fears of air travellers, a potentially life-threatening situation beyond their control. No longer passengers, they were captives of fate, powerless to do anything to help themselves. Except stay calm.

"This is an emergency. This is not a drill," a recorded message droned. For the next seven minutes, it repeated the message continuously.

In that time, the passengers - and the cabin crew - had no idea of what the emergency was, or what their fate would be. Strapped in their seats, they could only pray and hope.

"They were seven minutes of tremendous anxiety," said Singapore Airlines spokesman Stephen Forshaw.

Captain Kwon and his flight deck crew were too busy making an emergency descent to reassure the passengers, dropping the Boeing 747- 400 at a vertical rate of 1.3 kilometres a minute.

The crisis was a drop in cabin pressurisation. For several minutes, cabin crew had been reporting that passengers were complaining of "popping ears" and that they had the same troubling sensation themselves - a sure sign of decompression.

Flight deck instruments confirmed their fears. Although Flight 222 was at 36,000 feet (about 11,000 metres), the air pressure inside the plane was maintained at 6,000 feet. But it had risen to 9,000 feet, there was no explanation for the fault, and it was likely to keep rising, possibly past 14,000 feet, the altitude at which humans require oxygen masks to survive.

Captain Kwon did not wait to give a warning. He activated the oxygen masks. Fortunately, the aircraft had been passing through turbulence, so passengers and cabin crew were strapped in their seat belts.

Flight 222 was 10 nautical miles south-east of Nyngan in north- western NSW, 46 minutes out of Sydney International Airport, on a seven-hour flight to Singapore. To avoid air collisions, it was locked into a flight path and had to get permission to alter course and altitude.

Captain Kwon radioed for permission to descend to 34,000 feet. Flight controllers at Air Services Australia en route centre at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne refused permission. A Qantas plane was on the same course and altitude. They needed to maintain an air separation of 30 nautical miles and 1,000 feet.

Flight 222 was cleared to 35,000 feet. It wasn't enough. Captain Kwon requested an "emergency descent", advising air traffic control of his problem. He was told to go down to 10,000 feet. Less than a minute had passed. Captain Kwon had to lose 26,000 feet of altitude as quickly as was safely possible. He did it in six minutes.

To reduce air speed from 490 knots, he throttled back the four Pratt and Whitney engines to idle, set the speed brakes - wing panels that rise vertically on the wings, known as "spoilers" - at full on and lowered the landing gear to maximise drag.

With its nose angled eight degrees downwards, Flight 222 was going forward at 270 knots, the maximum speed a jumbo jet can fly with its undercarriage down, and dropping vertically 3,400 feet a minute, double the normal descent rate.

"Although the plane was descending at a tremendous rate, the passengers had more a sensation of forward speed," Mr Forshaw said. "They could feel the speed."

At 24,000 feet, the aircraft passed beyond radar range 15 nautical miles north-west of Nyngan but maintained radio contact until it got to 10,000 feet.

Only then did Captain Kwon inform the fearful passengers of the problem, reassuring them they were safe, there was no longer any need to use the oxygen masks. They were going back to Sydney. It was no doubt a moment of great relief. For the first time since the crisis began, the cabin crew could move freely, tending the passengers.

Three minutes later, at 5.56pm, Captain Kwon was given permission to turn his plane around.

By now, Flight 222 had a second problem. Its flight computer was malfunctioning, the likely cause of the depressurisation. But it was almost causing other instrumentation failures.

Captain Kwon switched off the auto-pilot and began flying hands on, bringing the plane back to normal. He retracted the undercarriage, closed the speed brakes and accelerated to cruising speed.

At 6.08pm, Flight 222 came back on radar, 80 nautical miles north- west of Parkes, the swing to the south completed and on course for Sydney, less than an hour's flying time away.

Thunderstorm lay ahead, to be avoided at all costs. Air traffic control directed the aircraft due south and then turned it on a heading of 85 degrees, almost due east, a straight run into Sydney over the Blue Mountains.

The crew's concern became weight. Because of faulty instruments, Captain Kwon was unable to dump fuel. The Boeing had taken off with about 90 tonnes of fuel in wing and fuselage tanks. By the time it landed it would have consumed 20 tonnes. Calculations showed the all- up landing weight - plane, passengers, cargo, fuel - would be more than about 291 tonnes. This was not a major worry, but any landing weight in excess of 286 tonnes is deemed an overweight landing and must be reported in advance.

Even though the weight was well within the Boeing's stress capabilities, any heavy landing, even only five tonnes over the limit, puts the aircraft at risk of damage. Stringent inspections are required before the aircraft can fly again.

The task is to get a heavy plane down as softly as a lighter aircraft, minimising the impact, and the extra weight makes it harder to do.

A normal landing speed is between 120 and 145 knots. But a heavier plane has to go faster, up to 170 knots, to control its descent rate to about 900 feet a minute. Going faster, it can land a lot harder. The skill is in the "flare", when the pilot pulls the aircraft's nose up in the second before touchdown, cutting speed and hopefully easing it down.

At 6.30pm Captain Kwon, now talking directly to Sydney air control, advised he would make a heavy landing. Airport and NSW Fire Brigades units went into readiness, ambulance and police were called in.

At 7.06, Captain Kwon "flared" Flight 222 onto the north-south runway. It was going so fast it required the entire runway to brake to a halt.

The passengers clapped and cheered. The crew were full of smiles. They were safely on the ground. Their ordeal was ended.

For the crew of Flight 222 and the ground operators, it had been a faultless exercise in handling a crisis.

-- Andre Weltman (, November 09, 2001.

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