Saturday, August 9, 2008

Explosion Investigation

MANILA, Philippines--At the end of a mission to help investigate an explosion aboard a Qantas jet nine days ago, a Philippine aviation official experienced on Saturday a midair scare on a flight of the Australian carrier bound for Manila.

A top official of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) was among some 200 passengers who found themselves on a jittery ride over Australia, when the Qantas jet made an emergency landing in Sydney because of a hydraulic leak.

Keen on any sign of aircraft trouble, CAAP Executive Director Daniel Dimagiba grew worried as he observed the slow ascent of the Qantas plane, a Boeing 767, just minutes after its delayed takeoff at the Sydney airport at around 2 p.m. Saturday.

"I was in business class and on a window seat—that's my favorite seat on a plane—and I noticed as we took off that the plane's rate of climb was slow. I could see the ground slowly drifting away and the sound of the jet engine was different," Dimagiba told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of Saturday.

He was flying home after he met with Qantas officials and observed the Canberra-based Australian Transport Safety Bureau's data retrieval and analysis of the flight data recorder from the Qantas Boeing 747-400 jet, which was involved in a midair decompression within Philippine air space on July 25.

The flight en route to Melbourne from Hong Kong made an emergency landing in Manila after a blast believed to have been caused by an exploding oxygen cylinder ripped a large hole in its fuselage.

Plane parts retrieved from the damaged jet, which is still grounded in Manila, were sent to Canberra for forensic analysis. The CAAP sent a representative to observe the probe in compliance with international aviation regulations.

Then on July 28, a Qantas 737-800 was forced to return to Adelaide after a landing gear door failed to retract.

The incidents followed a series of media reports in Australia about concerns about the quality of maintenance amid an increase in the amount of such work outsourced to other countries.

On his way back to the airport, Dimagiba never expected a first-hand taste of what he has been dealing with in his career. The official knew all too well that something was wrong.

"Since I understand how planes work, I was concerned because our ascent was slow … The other passengers were in their seats, just relaxing, reading," he said over the phone on Sunday.

Trouble began before passengers entered the plane, according to Dimagiba. He recalled hearing the airline ground crew saying that the plane's passenger door could not be shut properly.

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