Flames ‘were gushing’

2014-08-30 00:00

AS the aeroplane barrelled along the runway, gathering speed to take off, there was a loud boom, then flames started “gushing” out of one of the engines.

Anna-Lee dos Santos, a senior manager at Telkom, yesterday related the panic passengers on the SA Airlink flight out of Pietermaritzburg felt as they saw flames pouring out of the right engine. Dos Santos said as the 8.30 am flight to Johannesburg was speeding up for take off, something on the right side of the aeroplane “dropped”.

“I thought to myself, this is a bit weird and then the next thing flames were coming out of the plane on the right hand side of the engine. The flames were just gushing out. People seated on that side undid their seatbelts and jumped towards the left side of the plane. We were all concerned that the aeroplane would catch alight.”

Dos Santos said the pilot told the passengers to remain seated and stay calm. He told them that the emergency services were on hand and said they had just lost an engine. ­

Another passenger, Siphumzile ­Ntshangase, a senior manager for the Department of Justice said: “I thought we were going to die because we were sitting on the side where the flames were visible and could see them stretching one metre out of the engine,”

Ntshangase said it was a horrific ­experience and she’s never going to use “these small airports” again.

Her colleague, Gauta Mokgala, said she had been on the phone to her father telling him about their “near death ­experience”.

Maximum thrust needed for strong winds

TSA Airlink spokesperson Karin Murray said strong cross winds at Pietermaritzburg Airport presented conditions requiring the maximum thrust setting for the take-off.

She said the Avro RJ85 four-engine “whisperjet” was most suited to the demanding conditions.

Murray said once maximum power had been established by the pilots, the brakes were released, and on the commencement of the take-off roll, a loud “pop” sound was heard and it was found that one engine had failed.

She said the cockpit crew reacted, immediately stopping the aircraft on the runway and shutting off the failed engine, preventing fire.

She said an engine failure on take-off is not routine, but occurs regularly throughout airline operations and is an emergency situation that pilots are highly trained to deal with.

Murray apologised to their customers on flight SA8732 for the inconvenience caused by the event.

Aviation Authority to investigate accident

SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said the SACAA is always concerned about any accident or incident resulting from civil aviation operations.

She said the aircraft and incident investigation unit of the Department of Transport is investigating.

“Our safety oversight programme ensures that airlines licensed and approved by us meet the global safety standards,” she said when asked if Airlink was safe to travel in.

Gwebu said until such time as the outcome of the investigation involving Airlink is known, the SACAA cannot come to such a conclusion as they don’t know the cause of the accidents.

• In 2009, the SACAA suspended the airworthiness certificates of the 14 Airlink Jetstream aircraft after a Jetstream was involved in an abor­ted take-off incident at Nelspruit Airport. The airline said the problem was due to the failure of an engine turbine seal plate component.

What we have reported before

• In 2009, SA Airlink appointed an independent expert to review the airline’s safety processes and procedures following accidents and incidents, after a plane overshot the runway at George Airport and landed near the N2.

• In November 2011, an Airlink plane bound for Pietermaritzburg from O.R. Tambo had a problem with the landing gear.

• On August 12, this year, an almost fully laden jet that had flown out of Pietermaritzburg Airport experienced landing gear problems and had to land in Durban, with passengers told to assume the brace position.

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