Cathay emergency landing triggers investigation

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG Mon May 16, 2011 12:09pm EDT

Passengers on Cathay Pacific flight CX715 disembark from the aeroplane after it landed safely at Changi Airport in Singapore May 16, 2011. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Passengers on Cathay Pacific flight CX715 disembark from the aeroplane after it landed safely at Changi Airport in Singapore May 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta

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SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) - An investigation has been launched after a Cathay Pacific jetliner made an emergency landing in Singapore with an engine problem on Monday.

Terrified passengers prayed together as their aircraft, one of its engines apparently on fire, made its way back to safety, a Reuters witness said.

Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK) said the Airbus EAD.PA A330, bound for Jakarta with 136 passengers on board, landed back in Singapore "without incident" just before 2 a.m. It said the crew shut down the engine after receiving a "stall warning".

The Hong Kong-based airline said that it and engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L) were investigating the incident.

Rolls-Royce and European planemaker Airbus EAD.PA both said they would support the investigation, which comes six months after a far more dramatic Rolls-Royce engine blowout forced a Qantas (QAN.AX) A380 to turn back to Singapore.

Reuters photographer Beawiharta was aboard the Cathay Pacific plane with his wife, two sons and daughter.

About 20 minutes after take-off, there were two sharp bangs, sending cabin staff scurrying to retrieve the meals they had only just begun serving.

The plane began shaking violently, he said, and the lights went out. He could smell something burning.

His son, Pradipta, 15, said he could see fire from the cabin window and Beawiharta said a stewardess "told us an engine had caught fire and we were on our way back to Singapore".

"Behind us, passengers were praying: 'God, save our flight! Give us your protection!'," the photographer said.

"RARE EVENT"

The Cathay plane was powered by Rolls-Royce's Trent 700 engines, which are specifically designed for Airbus' EAD.PA A330 family and captured the lion's share of that market in the past three years.

"We're aware of the incident and are working closely with our customer to provide support and technical assistance," a Rolls-Royce spokesman said.

A spokesman for Airbus said it would "provide every assistance to the airline and Rolls-Royce in order to determine the cause of the incident".

An uncontained engine failure or blow-out in a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine forced a Qantas Airbus A380 to make an emergency landing in Singapore last November and prompted the temporary grounding of the Australian carrier's A380 fleet.

Singapore's Air Accident Investigation Bureau is expected to lead the probe into the Cathay Pacific incident.

Safety expert Paul Hayes at Ascend Aviation said uncontained engine fires were rare, as were uncontained engine failures. But he said it was too early to tell from witness reports to what extent any flames had been kept under control.

Cathay said the crew had shut down the affected engine as soon as they received the alert of a possible malfunction, but it also said sparks had been reported from the same engine after the aircraft had stopped on the taxiway.

Firefighters were seen dousing the engine as passengers disembarked.

In a waiting room, the pilot greeted assembled passengers.

"The best that we can ever ask of passengers is to stay cool, stay calm ... which you did," he said. "And for that we thank you." (Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alex Richardson and Alison Williams)

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