Source: The Age
Passengers were told to “brace, brace, brace” and keep their heads down as a Virgin Australia plane had no choice but to make an emergency landing at a fog-bound airport because it was running out of fuel.
The chilling account of the second attempt by the Boeing 737-800 aircraft to land at Mildura Airport in Victoria last month is contained in a preliminary report by air-safety investigators.
The Virgin jet, which was carrying 85 passengers and six crew from Brisbane, had earlier diverted from landing at Adelaide Airport because of fog.
When they got near Mildura, the two pilots discovered that the weather conditions were not as they had been reported, with fog and low cloud in the area. An automated weather information service was out of action.
It also became clearer to them that the weather was worse than had been reported when they heard another plane make a “missed approach” at Mildura and divert to Broken Hill.
As they began to make an approach to land, the Virgin crew discovered that pilots on a Qantas 737 were looking to land and had less fuel than them.
The Virgin plane allowed the Qantas 737, which was carrying 146 passengers from Sydney, to make the first approach and it landed safely. It also had been diverted from Adelaide.
The Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau report reveals that the Virgin pilots told air-traffic controllers that they would have to land at Mildura because they did not have enough fuel to divert elsewhere.
At about 10am, the pilots said they would be declaring a “fuel emergency” within the next 10 minutes.
They also agreed that emergency services should be be sent to Mildura Airport to prepare for their landing.
As they began their first approach, the captain concentrated on flying the plane while the first officer “provided support and assessed the aircraft’s position visually over the ground”.
The first officer saw that visibility to the front of the plane was “virtually non-existent”.
Shortly later, the pilots pulled out of the landing and conducted what is known as a “go around”.
“Due to their fuel state, they were required to land from the next approach, regardless of conditions,” the ATSB investigators said in their preliminary report released on Thursday.
“The crew briefed the cabin crew of their plane and that they would be given an emergency landing call during their approach.”
The pilots also told the flight attendants that the “touchdown would be firm and that they had about four minutes before landing”.
As they began the second approach, the “first officer made the ‘BRACE BRACE BRACE PA announcement” as the plane dropped below 600 feet.
The flight attendants immediately told passengers to keep their heads down.
The first officer then looked out of the cockpit and saw the “same visual features as he had on the first approach”. He assessed that the plane was over the runway and heard the captain disconnect the autopilot.
“The crew could not determine where they were in relation to the length of the runway and flew the aircraft into the ground,” the investigators said in the report.
The touchdown was described as “firm”. The first officer told the passengers over the public address system that they had landed successfully and the “emergency procedures” were no longer needed.
The report reveals that the plane had just 535 kilograms of fuel remaining when its engines were shutdown.
Under the original flight plan, the pilots had wanted to have 2500 kilograms of fuel remaining in the plane’s tanks when it was to have landed at Adelaide.
A final report into the incident is not expected until June next year.
Passengers told to “brace, brace, brace” during emergency landing at fog-bound airport. Photo: GLENN HUNT