A Testament to Crew’s Effective Decision-Making

  • After a MAYDAY was declared due to engine shutdown, Qantas flight crew chose to land in Sydney rather than diverting to the closer Norfolk Island.
  • ATSB report confirms the crew's actions resulted in “no additional risk” and praises their management of the unexpected situation.
  • Subsequent engine inspection identified a separation in the engine's inlet gearbox, causing an uncommanded shutdown.

In an incident where a Qantas aircraft's engine shut down during its flight from Auckland to Sydney, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a report on Thursday endorsing the flight crew's decision. Opting for Sydney Airport, despite its greater distance than Norfolk Island, was deemed appropriate, The Australian Aviation reports.

The plane, housing 145 passengers, managed a safe and routine landing in Sydney.

Kerri Hughes, the ATSB’s director of transport safety, illuminated the reason behind this choice: "Sydney Airport was directly on the flight's path, presented a forecast of suitable weather conditions, and was equipped with a comprehensive emergency response and a lengthy runway, conducive for a straightforward landing."

The incident on the 737-838, VH-XZB, unfolded on 18 January 2023, with the left engine unexpectedly shutting down mid-flight. As an immediate measure, the flight crew declared a MAYDAY, ensuring prompt communication with air traffic control. This allowed them to swiftly descend from 36,000 ft to 24,000 ft. Hughes disclosed findings from a subsequent engine examination, pointing to a disruption between the engine core and accessory gearbox caused by the radial driveshaft’s detachment in the engine’s inlet gearbox. This led to the engine's abrupt shutdown.

Considering the plane's position at the time of engine failure, diverting to Norfolk Island would have necessitated a significant deviation. Moreover, the island's weather and operational conditions were variable, adding potential risks. In contrast, the aircraft was approximately 150 km farther from Sydney.

Another notable revelation from the ATSB report was the inadvertent overwriting of the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder during post-landing maintenance in Sydney. In response to this oversight, Qantas has refined its processes to guard against unintentional overwrites of crucial flight data. A set of procedures, including immediate notifications, rigorous follow-ups, and confirmations, has now been put in place.

Passengers aboard the QF144 flight, unaware of the MAYDAY call till their safe landing, commended the crew's professionalism. Recounting the incident, passenger Simone Schmidt shared, "Though we felt a slight tremor and heard a loud sound, we didn’t recognize it was the whole engine. The pilot's handling was outstanding." Qantas also took the opportunity to emphasize the superior training its pilots undergo, particularly in scenarios of engine failure. A spokesperson for the airline stated, “Our pilots, skilled in managing rare in-flight engine shutdowns, ensure passenger safety. Aircraft are even crafted to function extensively on a single engine."