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Things That Go Bang in the Air – NZ 132

It was not an “unusual” notion that on their way from Brisbane to Canada and the USA for the year end/ New Year and the January meetings in Toronto The Baron & Lady of Prestoungrange should take the opportunity to go via Auckland. NZ 132 was a familiar flight, taken repeatedly before. But as the Captain remarked after landing back at Brisbane rather than at Auckland, it had turned out be “an unusual day for all of us, and I thank you for your patience”.

The “unusual” was that one of the two engines on the Air New Zealand Boeing 767 exploded at 10 000 feet some 20 minutes after take off. Seemingly a blade somewhere at the rear of the engine broke away and instead of being contained within the engine casing decided to break out. As some bits thereof went flying they hit the wing above removing some of its casing as they went. Seated inside with a promise of breakfast, the observable event was a rather loud bang. Gordon hypothesized a container had broken loose in the hold and was cannonading about, but Avril was better placed to view the damaged engine and wing tip.

After consulting the resultant Christmas tree lighting in his cockpit, as he later described it, the Captain announced that “We have lost an engine and shall be returning to Brisbane. We can safely fly on just one engine.” (One understands on days like this why he has two even though one is apparently sufficient!) The Captain seemed calm enough and that was apparently his intention as he circled back to Brisbane losing height. Until we reached 500 feet all of us were lulled into a grand sense of security. Then out of the box popped: “We are passing through 500 feet” from the Captain and repeated shouts of “Brace; stay down, stay down” from the cabin staff. We hit the runway with style (similarities with Yeadon or Guernsey in a strong wind came to mind) and a crunch, scattering a few more pieces of metal as we went... The crunch was scarcely surprising because we had a full fuel load on board and all the downside that implies. But the tyres did not blow out and the brakes did not burst into flames either…. which the fire brigade rushed to avert with foam and suchlike.

Click on the images to enlarge

Extensive Press coverage was given as linked here:

Air NZ engine cracks at 3000m - 09/12/2002

Air NZ seeks independent safety check - 10/12/2002
- Editorial
- Cartoon
- Letters

Boeing to join Air NZ safety review panel - 11/12/2002

The Captain received two rounds of applause. The first for doing the job he was trained to do which he waved aside; the second was for his humour. After landing and the fire brigade exercises, he proudly announced “Everything is under control… more or less!” Tales that we were all screaming as reported in the press are totally fictitious. Indeed the Captain asked us why we did not do more panicking stuff. We confirmed that he had reassured us well enough, but he did not look that reassured himself it has to be added. He reluctantly declined a beer or two en route to Auckland from the Qantas cabin staff but the rest of us showed no such restraint with the champagne.

We had landed on a side runway, well away from the Terminal so buses were needed to get 200 of us away but they proved to be the major problem. Airports in the 21st Century with air bridges no longer have buses, so alas it took 30 minutes and more to get some organised. In the end they used Airport Downtown connector buses. But after that it was a most impressive operation.

Qantas flew some 40 of those first off just an hour later to Auckland, including the Air New Zealand Captain and his crew. One ex-Australian Rugby League player amongst the survivors asked the Captain if he’d ever made such a landing before to which he replied: “Only on the simulator”, and Gordon whispered… “This then was action learning”. But we were without any baggage of course and without an offer of an over-night help kit either. The baggage office in Auckland had no inkling that it was destined for a few hours of inappropriate Lost Baggage form filling either. Nobody had alerted them but they had heard about our saga on the TV News – bad travels faster than corporate communications.

The final twist to the tale is that we have all been promised a Letter of Apology. Frankly we are still also deeply concerned about the Frequent Flyer miles… will they be Star Alliance or One World?

Published Date: December 8th 2002

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