SYDNEY (Reuters) - Qantas was ordered on Sunday to check all oxygen bottles on its fleet of Boeing 747s after investigators said an exploding oxygen bottle might have ripped a hole in a Qantas 747, forcing it to make an emergency landing at Manila.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) said Qantas had agreed to inspect oxygen bottles on its fleet of 747s. The airline has about 30 of the Boeing model.
The Qantas aircraft made an emergency landing in Manila on Friday after part of its undercarriage blew off, triggering a loss in cabin pressure during a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne.
“There are two cylinders located pretty much exactly where that hole appeared,” CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told reporters.
“We do know there were two oxygen bottles in that area, we do know they’re a main focus of the investigation, and we think it’s prudent to put safety first, to get inspections done now rather than wait any longer,” Gibson said.
In Manila, investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said there were no traces of explosive materials on the aircraft or passengers’ baggage.
“At this stage, there was no evidence whatsoever that this is a security-related event,” said Neville Blyth, senior investigator from the safety bureau.
“This is treated as a safety investigation and until such time as any evidence comes to light that this is a security-related event, the investigation will be conducted by the ATSB and the Philippines as standard safety event.”
Blyth said one of the oxygen cylinders near the fuselage of the Boeing 747-400 was missing, but he declined to conclude it was the cause of the blast.
“I can’t speculate as to indeed the probability of that cylinder having caused the damage. The areas around the damage will be inspected, obviously, looking for evidence of where that cylinder may have gone and for its fragments.”
Passengers reported hearing a loud bang before the aircraft rapidly lost altitude and said the Boeing 747-400 had a hole the size of a mini-van on the right of its undercarriage when it landed in the Philippine capital.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said QF30 made an emergency descent from 29,000 feet to 10,000 feet. All 346 passengers and 19 crew disembarked safely.
Gibson also said investigators would look into reports that oxygen masks aboard the plane were in poor shape and some failed to deploy during the emergency.
Some passengers said their oxygen masks failed to work properly during the crisis, almost causing some to pass out.
“Ours didn’t come down, and my husband just about (passed out) because he didn’t have any oxygen for about three minutes,” passenger Beverley Doors told Australian radio on Sunday.
Passenger David Saunders said one man in front of him smashed the ceiling panel 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.
Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in Manila