Urgent probe into emergency plane landing
Johannesburg - An urgent probe is underway at Airlink after a plane was forced to make an emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport, the airline said on Friday.
"I have implemented an urgent internal review of our processes and procedures," chief executive Rodger Roster said in a statement.
"The SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) has commenced its investigation into last night's regrettable incident," he said, adding that Airlink would co-operate with the Sacaa probe.
Flight SA 8739, with 72 passengers and four crew on board, was forced to ground on its belly on Thursday night after experiencing problems with its nose-wheel.
The aircraft landed safely at 21:20 with its nose-wheel retracted, spokesperson Karin Murray said.
No one hurt
The flight took off from the airport at 19:10 and was expected to land in Pietermaritzburg at 19:40.
"In accordance with procedure, the crew turned back to OR Tambo International and burned off fuel before landing. None of the passengers or crew were hurt in the emergency landing," said Murray.
The company provided alternative travel arrangements for the passengers.
Roster extended his apologies to the passengers and their loved ones for their distress and thanked the Airports Company SA, emergency services and all those who helped take care of the passengers and crew.
Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele congratulated those who ensured the safety of the emergency landing.
"We want to commend the captain and crew of the aircraft, Airports Company South Africa, Air Traffic and Navigation Services, emergency services [and others]," Ndebele said in a statement.
"This again demonstrates our readiness and preparedness as a country to effectively deal with such emergencies."
With the approach of the COP-17 environmental conference in Durban later this month, Ndebele said an integrated and co-ordinated approach to safety-related issues was a top priority.
Passengers changed planes
Roster said he had discussed the incident with the director-general of transport, who would convey to Ndebele his "undertaking to work tirelessly to ensure that we do not compromise the safety of air travellers in South Africa".
Alec Hogg, the founder of Moneyweb, was a passenger on the flight. He recorded his experience of the emergency landing on his blog.
Hogg said the passengers were first seated in a "spanking new" Avro RJ85, but were asked to disembark because of a technical fault.
The second aircraft they boarded was "so old it had ashtrays on the seats".
Hogg said that 15 minutes into the flight the pilot, Harm Kallenberg, announced that the aircraft would return to OR Tambo International airport. He said there was no cause for alarm.
‘Happy to be alive’
Hogg praised the pilot and the air hostesses for remaining calm and keeping passengers informed.
Passengers were shown the "brace" position for an emergency landing.
He wrote that he had "realised absent-mindedly that the seat was too small for me to get my head into my lap as we were instructed to".
He described the landing as "the longest 30 seconds of my life".
The front landing gear had failed and "the bottom of the plane hit the tarmac and a loud noise like skateboarding on a gravel road filled our ears".
Hogg said he felt "very, very happy to be alive".