I always fly with Qantas and I’m one of just a few frequent flyer members who joined in the first year of Qantas’ Frequent Flyer Program being established that is still flying at a platinum level. I joined the Frequent Flyer Program in 1984 when the domestic airline, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), was renamed Australian Airlines and was subsequently purchased by Qantas. I have been a Platinum level member almost every year since then, apart from one year when I reverted back to Gold Level because of an injury and I couldn’t fly so much.
There’s one Qantas pilot who I have always wondered whether I would ever get to fly with and on this last flight coming home from our trip to Europe, he was the Captain of the aircraft. Not only did I fly with him, I actually had a chance to chat with him and shake his hand. His name is Richard de Crespigny.
Captain de Crespigny. is undoubtedly Australia’s most famous pilot. He was commanding an Airbus A380 Qantas Flight 32 on 4 November 2010 when an engine suffered suffered an unconfined explosion forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Singapore. It was the most significant accident that Qantas has had in its entire jet history.
Qantas Flight 32 was a Qantas scheduled passenger flight from London to Sydney via Singapore. The engine failure was the first of its kind for the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft. On inspection it was found that a turbine disc in the aircraft’s No. 2 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine had disintegrated. In addition to the destruction of the engine, this explosion caused severe damage to the nacelle, wing, fuel system, landing gear, flight controls, and the controls for engine No. 1, as well as a fire in the left inner wing fuel tank that self-extinguished. The failure was determined to have been caused by the breaking of a stub oil pipe which had not been manufactured properly.
The emergency occurred over Batam Island, Indonesia, just four minutes after taking off from Changi for the second leg of the flight. After holding to determine their status, the plane returned to Changi nearly two hours after take-off. There were no injuries to the passengers, crew or people on the ground but debris from the accident did fall onto Batam.
Shrapnel from the exploding engine punctured part of the wing and damaged the fuel system causing leaks and a fuel tank fire, disabled one hydraulic system and the anti-lock braking system, caused No. 1 and No. 4 engines to go into a “degraded” mode, and damaged landing flaps and the controls for the outer left No. 1 engine. The crew, after finding the plane barely controllable, decided to fly a holding pattern close to Singapore Changi Airport while assessing the status of the aircraft. It took 50 minutes to complete this initial assessment. Qantas pilots are checked around six times per year. This flight, fortuitously, not only had a senior captain checking Richard de Crespigny but also another senior pilot checking the Check Captain. The flight returned to Changi Airport, landing safely after the crew extended the landing gear by a gravity drop emergency system, As a result of the aircraft landing 35 knots faster than normal, four tyres were blown and it stopped just 100 metres from the end of the runway.
Upon landing, the crew were not able to shut down the No. 1 engine, which had to be doused by emergency crews until it flamed out. The pilots considered whether to evacuate the plane immediately after landing as fuel was leaking from the left wing onto the brakes, which were white hot from maximum braking.
The Check Captain noted in an interview “We’ve got a situation where there is fuel, hot brakes and an engine that we can’t shut down. And really the safest place was on board the aircraft until such time as things changed. So we had the cabin crew operate within an alert phase the whole time, ready to evacuate, open doors, inflate slides at any moment. As time went by, that danger abated and, thankfully, we were lucky enough to get everybody off very calmly and very methodically through one set of stairs”. There were no injuries reported among the 440 passengers and 29 crew on board the plane.
After finally disembarking, Richard de Crespigny spent over two hours debriefing all the passengers and even gave them his mobile phone number in case they felt that Qantas was not looking after them properly. Not one passenger called him.
Qantas received compensation of A$95 million from Rolls-Royce and the plane was repaired at an estimated cost of A$139 million,. The repairs included four new engines and a repaired left wing (including 6 km of wiring that was replaced). It had extensive on-ground testing and two test flights before returning to Australia, returning to service on 28 April 2012.
I have read Richard e Crespigny’s book about this incident titled ‘QF32’. It is an outstanding story about his flying skill, leadership and customer sensitivity. I can recommend it to everyone. He is a great ambassador for Qantas and a great Australian.
Not only did I get some time to speak with Richard de Crespigny, he invited me to visit the cockpit after we landed in Melbourne. I have this photo of me sitting in the Captain’s seat on the flight deck.