by Elco B
Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 10:04:05 AM EST
In the morning of 22 november 2003 a civilian freighter plane was hit by a missile but manages to return safely to the airport of Bagdad.
This news item covers story's about an illegal war, armed resistance, craftsmanship of an aircrew and ethics of war-reporting.
|The plane:||* Airbus-3004B-203F: an all freighter plane registered OO-DLL in Belgium by operator EAT.|
- Flys for DHL in the Middle East under a contract with the US military to fly post in and out Bagdad.
|The crew:||* captain Eric Gennote (38) Belgian.|
Co-pilot Steeve Michielsen (29) Belgian.
Flight engineer Mario Rofail (54) British.
22 november 2003 morning :
| || Claudine Vernier, journalist for Paris Match Magazine has an appointement with Abu Abdallah, a resistance leader. With her photographer she is taken to the outskirts of Bagdad airport.There she intervieuws the fighters and learns they will shoot at a plane. She thinks they are bluffing.|
|The crew of OO-DLL prepares for takeoff from Bagdad airport.They are working through the check-lists.Only half loaded they expect a smooth flight to Bahrein. |
22 november 2003 around 9 am local time :
|While her photographer takes pictures, the man of the resistance group explain the differences between SAM-14 and SAM-7 schoulderfired Surface to Air Missiles. Claudine Vernier realises they are not bluffing and wants to leave, but with al this armed man around decides to stay in fear for her life.|
|Bagdad ATC (Air Traffic Control), manned by Australian personnel, clears the OO-DLL for takeoff and soon the plane is climbing to reach 3000 m. This altitude is considered the safe limit for ground-fire and shoulderlaunched missiles.|
22 november 2003, minutes after 9 am :
|The resistance fighters spot the climbing plane and decide to launch a missile : a SAM-14 is on its way. Claudine Vernier holds her breath when she follows the climbing missile. |
| The plane is hit, clearly visible from the ground, but is still flying.|
In the plane the crew feel a shock and flight engineer Mario sees within minutes that all hydraulic systems fail.
22 november 2003 9.12 am:
| Claudine Vernier sees a second missile launched, this time a SAM-7 but this one misses the target. The fighters now scramble to leave the area in their cars and leave behind a baffled Claudine Vernier.|
Meanwhile in the plane an emergency is declared as the plane is completely out of control. It flys on its own . Without hydraulics no one steering mechanism can be used.No slats, no flaps, no rudder, no elevator.
22 november 2003 9.15 am :
Situation in the plane is confused since the crew had no idea what really happened. A US Apache helicopter made contact with the plane to tell them the left top wing was trailing a flame of 50 meters.
The engines were stil working normally and the pilot managed to 'learn' in minutes to steer the plane by manipulating the throttles.
Mario his description afterwards :
All the crew are taking part in everything, doing whatever they see needs to be done. "The rulebook has gone out the window," explains Rofail. "Situations like this are unique every time. You cannot train for them. You cannot write a checklist for them." The crew have since listened to the cockpit voice recorder tape and say they are quite surprised at how calm they all sound. Rofail says: "All you can do is apply common sense and stay calm. We were the right combination of crew."
In history of civilian aviation only two cases are known were all hydraullic systems failed.
In 1989 a United Airlines DC-10 had such a breakdown after a mechanical failier: it crash landed at the Sioux City, Iowa, airport, and the majority of the passengers survived.
In another case ,on 12 august 1985 a Japanese Airlines Boeing 747 crashed : only 4 survivers; there were 524 people onboard.
The crew of OO-DLL manages to 'steer' the plane in the direction of the airport. A first attempt to land was going terribly wrong and climbed again to make a turn around.
The wing was still in flames and the crew feared to run out of fuel, a separating wing-tip and possible other grounfire. But still only by manipulating the throttles they managed a new return to the airport aiming at the runways.
Coming in with to much speed, and pushed to the left by the wind , the plane touches down on the runway.
The plane, no possibility to steer, veers off the runway and runs trough te sandy ground, creating a huge dusty cloud.
The rather soft ground works as a break and after 600 m , taking down a concertina-fence, the plane comes to a halt.
Emergency services are immediatly at the place and extinguishes the fire in the wing.
The crew evacuates the plane by the slides.
The plane had substantial dammage at the left wing, engines suffered from ingested sand and debris.
The crew was honered by several international organisations for their performance wich was previously considered as impossible. They are asked all over the world to give lectures . Captain Eric, and co-pilot Steeve are still flying for EAT/DHL. Flight engineer Mario has retired now.
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