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19 August 2012

Richard de Crespigny: QF 32

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A rivetting real life thriller - disaster avoided
This real-life thriller about how a Qantas Airbus A380 super jumbo landed safely after a catastrophic engine explosion was as rivetting as most of the fictional adventure thrillers that I read normally. While there is a lot of technical detail most of it is essential to be able to understand what happened.

On 4 November 2010 Qantas flight QF32 with 469 people on board left Singapore on a routine flight to Sydney. Just before the Captain (Richard de Crespigny) turned off the seatbelts sign there was a double explosion in Engine 2 that sent metal shrapnel through the wing and fuel tanks and damaged or wrecked many of the computer controlled flying systems.

Captain de Crespigny has written a comprehensive description of what happened that day and how his team of very experienced pilots and superb cabin staff prevented what could have been the largest air disaster ever. He has written the book as a partial autobiography which describes his personal and flying experiences that helped him handle this unbelievable situation. Despite all of the traumas, De Crespigny still believes that the A380 is one of the safest planes in the sky, especially as it could survive damage that would almost certainly have caused other planes to crash.

The Captain and his crew were faced with an explosion and failure of Engine 2 which resulted in degrading of the performance and power of Engines 1 and 4 and failure of reverse thrust in one of the 2 enabled engines. Many hydraulic systems failed as the shrapnel cut wiring controls. Fuel pumps failed and there were more than 14 fuel leaks. The landing gear could only be set by gravity. There were 77 penetrations of the wing and 500 impacts on the fuselage by the shrapnel.

The story tells what happened in the cockpit and the passenger cabin during the 2 hours before a landing could be attempted and De Crespigny stopped the plane within 100 metres of the end of a 4,000 metre runway and near to waiting airport fire tenders. Even after an amazing landing the danger was not over as fuel was leaking near the braking system that had reached 1,000C during the emergency landing and the engines could not be stopped.

"It doesn't matter how well trained you are for these incidents, when they actually occur it leaves an emotional scar." While he was super confident during the crisis, Captain de Crespigny re-lived every second of the event as post traumatic stress hit him when he returned to Sydney and it took 4 months before he was able to fly again.

This book seems to have been written as a cathargic response and a pre-emptive description of events ahead of the release of the detailed, but bureaucratic Air Transport Safety Report at the end of 2012.

This is an important book about aircraft safety and the importance of pilot and crew training and teamwork. I hope that the publisher can arrange for the book to be released internationally (it is currently only available in Australia).

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