The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating a significant incident involving AirAsia X Flight D7237 which was operating from Perth, Western Australia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Sunday, 25 June 2017.
The aircraft operating as Flight D7237 was an Airbus A330 – 300 series aircraft equipped with two Rolls Royce Trent 772 engines. 359 people were on the aircraft.
Approximately 1.5 hours after take-off passengers reported hearing a loud explosion from the left side engine and the aircraft began to vibrate severely. Passengers also reported noise like a “spinning washing machine.”
At the time of the incident Flight D7237 was approximately 200 nautical miles south-west of Learmonth, Western Australia.
By way of a PA announcement, the operating captain placed the passengers on notice that a “technical issue” had occurred in respect to the left side engine, the engine had been shut down and the aircraft was returning to Perth. The return trip to Perth took approximately 1.5 hours. Although the left side engine had been shut down, passengers reported that the aircraft continued to vibrate for the duration of the flight return time to Perth.
Shortly prior to the aircraft landing into Perth, passengers were instructed to adopt the brace position.
We have been advised by a recently retired Qantas captain that the instruction provided to passengers to adopt the brace position is a serious command which means that the safe landing of an aircraft is in doubt.
The significant concerns of the operating pilots in relation to the safe landing of Flight D7237 appears to have been corroborated by the fact that marine emergency services were placed on standby for a possible water landing of the aircraft north of Perth.
Early investigations indicate that a left engine turbine blade fractured and was drawn back into the engine, causing it to seize.
Two controversial questions have been raised in respect to the incident.
Firstly, why did an unidentified crewmember advise passengers that they should pray for their safety? Taking into account that a significant situation was occurring, which from a frightened passenger perspective may have resulted in the loss of the aircraft, surely a primary role of operating crew is to reassure not terrify passengers.
Secondly, why did the operating captain not elect to divert Flight D7237 to the RAAF satellite base at Learmonth?
Landing of a degraded large commercial aircraft at the Learmonth RAAF base is not without precedent. On 7 October 2008 the operating captain of Qantas Flight 72 successfully made an emergency landing into Learmonth after QF 72 had experienced two uncontrolled pitch downs over the Indian Ocean. As a result of the pitch downs, QF 72 which was also an Airbus A330 – 300 series aircraft was severely degraded.
The decision by the Flight D7237 captain to not divert to Learmonth arguably extended the passengers terror by in excess of one hour, the time difference between returning to Perth in the alternative to diverting to Learmonth.
Although the cause of the Flight D7237 incident will not be publicly disclosed until the Australian Transport Safety Bureau publishes their investigation report, the facts of the matter as currently known are not dissimilar to the Qantas Flight 32 incident which occurred on 4 November 2011. The aircraft operating as Qantas Flight 32 was also equipped with Rolls-Royce engines.
Psychological injuries suffered by many Qantas Flight 32 passengers and crew were the subject of a class action damages claim against Rolls-Royce pursued by LHD Lawyers in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
If you were a Flight D7237 passenger and you suspect that you may have suffered a psychological injury, we recommend that you consult with a general practitioner soon as possible.
If you were travelling on flight D7237 and you wish to obtain advice in relation to your potential entitlement to claim damages for psychological injury, we invite you to contact us.