Dozens injured by sudden change in altitude on Qantas jet

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More than forty passengers have been hospitalised, fourteen of whom are seriously injured, after an Airbus A330-300 owned and operated by Qantas suddenly departed level flight, hurling people into the airliner's ceiling.

The flight between Singapore and Perth, Australia was cruising at 37,000 feet when a cockpit alert was triggered warning the flight crew of a possible malfunction with the aircraft's elevator, which controls pitch.

The aircraft then performed an uncommanded climb of 300 feet, before nosing down hard and falling an undetermined distance believed to be several thousand feet. During this descent, many of the 303 passengers and 10 crew were thrown against the ceiling, injuring many of them. The flight crew declared 'pan-pan', one level below a full life-threatening emergency, and performed an emergency landing at an air base at Learmonth after informing air traffic control of flight control difficulties and injured passengers.

The injured people were flown to hospital by Royal Flying Doctor Service and Skywest Airlines. The most seriously injured were suffering from broken bones and three people had concussions.

An investigation has been launched. Although such events are often blamed on turbulence, it has been suggested by industry experts that the circumstances of the accident are more in keeping with a computer malfunction. The A330 is a fly-by-wire aircraft.