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Experts eye oxygen tank explosions as cause of giant hole in Qantas jet fuselage

July 28, 2008, Manila, Philippines - Australian investigators were exploring the possibility that an oxygen cylinder could have exploded midflight on the Qantas jumbo jet that made a harrowing emergency landing in the Philippines with a giant hole in its fuselage.


July 28, 2008
By Administrator

July 28, 2008, Manila, Philippines – Australian investigators were exploring the possibility that an oxygen cylinder could have exploded midflight on the Qantas jumbo jet that made a harrowing emergency landing in the Philippines with a giant hole in its fuselage, an official said Sunday.

The Boeing 747-400 had 346 passengers aboard when it was shaken by what passengers described as an explosion. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling as the plane descended rapidly and debris flew through the cabin from a three-metre hole that suddenly appeared.

The plane, en route from London to Melbourne, Australia, had made a stopover in Hong Kong and was cruising at 8,800 metres before the trouble forced it to land at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International
Airport on Friday. There were no injuries among the passengers and crew.

Four Australian Transport Safety Bureau specialists inspected the aircraft Saturday and were to continue their investigation Sunday. Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were also sending specialists to assist, Ruben Ciron, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said.

The possibility of an explosion is one of several scenarios being considered by investigators, said Julian Walsh of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

“There are oxygen cylinders contained in the cargo compartment, but the relevance of that will certainly be covered in the investigation,'' he told reporters.

An official of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said initial reports indicated no link to terrorism.

A team of Philippine National Police bomb experts were also on hand to provide help in the investigation if needed, Ciron said.

"It's standard operating procedure to find out if there was an explosion or not. It looks like there was none, but we're going to confirm that later on," Ciron told The Associated Press.

Some passengers told Australian media that their oxygen masks failed to work properly during the crisis, leading some to nearly pass out.

Other passengers, while applauding the pilot and crew's performance, told of having to share oxygen masks between three people because of faulty or broken emergency equipment.

"Ours didn't come down, and my husband just about (passed out) because he didn't have any oxygen for about three minutes,'' Beverley Doors told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Passenger David Saunders said that one man in front of him smashed the ceiling panel in order to force his mask to come down and that children were screaming and flailing.

"Their cheeks and lips were turning blue from lack of oxygen,'' he said.

Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said the design of the Qantas jet includes dozens of oxygen tanks located throughout the lower part of the aircraft, including below the passenger compartment where the hole is.

Qantas Chief Executive Officer Geoff Dixon told reporters Saturday he was "horrified'' after seeing pictures of the aircraft's gaping hole. He said it was too early to speculate on what caused the damage.

"There are thousands of aircraft flying around the world today. Things happen. Something has happened here and we cannot speculate any more about what did happen,'' Dixon said.

Passengers on Flight QF 30 had just been served a meal after a stopover in Hong Kong when they heard a loud bang, then their ears popped as air rushed out of the hole in the aircraft's side.

An official of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said initial reports indicated no link to terrorism.

Peter Gibson, spokesman for Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said speculation that rust contributed to the accident could be discounted.

"It's clearly an extremely rare and unusual event that a hole opens up in the fuselage,'' he told reporters in Australia. “I know there's a number of theories around, but they're just that at this
stage, they're just theories. We don't have the solid facts.''

Qantas boasts a strong safety record and has never lost a jet to an accident. The last crash of a smaller airline plane was in 1951.