The Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award 2003
The Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award 2003
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Awarded to the Captain, a member of a flight deck crew, or a cabin attendant whose action contributed outstandingly by the saving of his/her aircraft or passengers, or made a significant contribution to future air safety.
Captain Eric Gennotte
First Officer Steeve Michielsen
Flight Engineer Mario Rofail
On 22nd November 2003, a DHL A300 B4 had been airborne from Baghdad Airport for just over 3 minutes when the calm in the cockpit was shattered by the sound of a loud bang. At about 8,000ft an explosion was heard, followed by a cacophony of aural warnings and visual displays showing a master warning on all flight controls.
Unbeknown to the crew at that time, the aircraft had been struck by a missile. The Flight Engineer, Mario Rofail, called that the green and yellow hydraulic systems were lost, and as he started preparing for the double hydraulic loss emergency checklist procedure the Captain, Eric Gennotte, announced that he was having difficulty controlling the aircraft. The First Officer, Steeve Michielsen, tried unsuccessfully to assist the Captain to try and regain control. The F/E then announced that the third hydraulic system was lost as well.
At that point the crew realised that there was little likelihood that the flight controls would become functional again. There was no emergency checklist or procedure to help them recover from this scenario. The situation appeared hopeless and they were very much on their own.
The aircraft was without conventional pilot input. The stick and rudder were ineffective. The flight control surfaces deprived of their hydraulic muscle, were aligned with the airflow (hinge moment zero).
The configuration was frozen:
• Slats and flaps could not be extended
• Spoilers were no longer controllable
• The position of the horizontal stabiliser could not be adjusted. It was and continued to remain at the trim position for 215 Knots with climb thrust. (This setting was to pose particular challenges for the crew as they attempted to stabilise the aircraft for an approach descent profile)
A state of emergency was declared by Steeve to ATC. The crew was told that the left engine was on fire. Mario advised his fellow crew members that this was not possible since all engine indications and fire warning systems were normal. However, with no hydraulics and a fire visible from the left wing he knew the aircraft was seriously damaged.
The tension was extreme on the flight deck. The ‘sense of disbelief’ was felt by all the crew members.
Eric announced that they could control the pitch attitude by adjusting thrust. Then began a learning period during which Eric, Steeve and Mario, discovered how to control the pitch by modulating thrust. Initially the thrust lever movements were large and essentially symmetrical, and the aircraft thus continued a wide, unsteady, 360 degree turn to the left.
The crew found that they could effectively stop the climb by reducing thrust, which caused an initial airspeed decrease whilst the nose dropped, but then the airspeed started to increase.
They had to cope with this apparent paradox, due to the change in pitching moment that could not be corrected by the jammed horizontal stabiliser.
The initial climb at 215 knots was changed into a shallow controlled descent by reducing thrust, leading to an unavoidable speed increase: Between 10,000 and 5,000 feet, IAS varied between 270 and 290 knots.
At that time Eric ordered the extension of the landing gear by the emergency gravity extension procedure, even though the speed exceeded the maximum allowed for landing gear extension.
Mario successfully manually extended the gear. It made a lot of noise since the gear doors remained open. The extended gear provided additional drag, which helped stabilise the aircraft. This was the only means to bring the speed back towards 210 knots. The decision to extend the gear so early on proved to be a vital decision.
With the aircraft controllable in pitch around level flight and at a speed compatible with landing, Eric, supported by Steeve and Mario, set about learning to control the direction of flight.
Asymmetric handling of the throttles could control bank. When the left engine alone was accelerated, the wings returned to the horizontal, similarly when the right engine only was retarded the same levelling effect could be achieved.
This was a very difficult procedure to perform, especially when trying simultaneously to maintain horizontal flight and follow a heading:
• The response to thrust change appeared rapidly in pitch, but roll response was delayed, since the roll resulted from the sideslip induced by the asymmetric thrust, and there was a lag before this took effect
• Since the left wing was damaged, the degree of asymmetric thrust had to be found which was sufficient to compensate for the asymmetry of lift, and it had to be maintained while the thrust was adjusted to control the slope; easier said than done
Eric was effectively flying an experimental aircraft and was continually gaining experience in manipulating the aircraft by the throttles. Steeve provided close assistance making some corrective inputs. There were a few rather alarming roll excursions beyond 30 degrees during that time. The aircraft remained very difficult to control, however confidence was gained as the flight progressed.
Eventually, they could consider navigation back to the field which had been lost from sight during the "training manoeuvres". Steeve took on the navigation. He suggested that a long final of at least 20 nautical miles was needed. The aircraft started a second 360 degree orbit, this time under more control. Eric started a right turn to come back towards runway 33R, the longer of the two runways at Baghdad.
The descent flight path then had to be established. That was not simple either: the descent angle selected by the average value of thrust was not easy to assess, since the whole process was subject to oscillation. It was thus an average descent angle that had to be judged, all the while maintaining the heading by asymmetric adjustment of the engines.
To complicate matters further, the turbulence associated with a wind of 20 knots from 290 degrees (left crosswind component tended to excite natural oscillations, and in addition GPWS warnings associated with the abnormal landing configuration sounded repeatedly on short final.
Eric concentrated on the essential, keeping the aircraft under control and reaching the airfield where the fire services could fight the fire on the left wing.
Steeve assisted with efficient and timely call-outs, announcing distances and altitudes. He stressed the point that the power must not be completely reduced on touch-down; otherwise, the symmetrical thrust would induce a turn to the left, particularly undesirable just before ground contact.
Mario, who, in addition to a close watch on all the systems, monitored the fuel remaining in the damaged left wing. It was vital that both engines were kept running by ensuring a positive supply of fuel and ignition. If one of the engines had lost power or failed, the aircraft and crew would have certainly been lost. He was therefore prepared to open the cross feed in case the left main tank emptied, but not too soon because the fuel in the right wing would then be lost through the leak on the left side. Furthermore, he was able to relieve both pilots by taking over all radio communication and made sure the aircraft was depressurised before touchdown to guarantee a successful emergency evacuation.
Mario contacted ATC for an updated visual assessment to request if the aircraft was still on fire. A military helicopter replied that the left wing was on fire and that the flame was the length of the aircraft (50 metres). In spite of the extreme stress Mario had the courtesy to say "thank you" to the controller. He also requested that both runways 33L and 33R be kept free and that all emergency services be ready.
The tension again increased as the ground approached. At 250ft, the pitch attitude, still slowly oscillating, dropped towards a negative value, which was most alarming so close to the ground. It was restored nose-up by a large increase in the thrust on both engines.
Towards 100ft, the aircraft was tracking to the runway threshold, but with a heading ten degrees less than the orientation of the runway. Eric made his final lateral control correction, reducing the right engine only. The aircraft banked to the right and the angle of convergence began to diminish.
Twenty-five long minutes after impact of the missile, the A300 B4 finally landed on runway 33L, without further damage:
• At a positive pitch attitude
• With a moderate sink rate (less than 10ft/sec, far below the tolerances for the landing gear)
• At an angle of bank of ten degrees to the right, and heading diverging about eight degrees to the left of the runway axis
Without any direct means of directional control, however, the aircraft rapidly went off the side of the runway. The throttles were retarded and selected to full reverse by Mario. The sandy ground provided a significant extra braking force and the aircraft, in spite of the high speed at touchdown, stopped after a landing run of the order of one kilometre, raising an impressive cloud of sand behind it.
After engine shutdown the crew evacuated the aircraft from the right, inches away from a coil of razor wire. They ran a safe distance from the aircraft as the wing was still on fire only to be intercepted by some military emergency services personnel who warned them that they were standing in a possible mine field. Their incredible feat was almost spoiled after taking their first steps back on the ground.
For their amazing and momentous actions in the saving of their aircraft, the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award is presented to each crewmember of the DHL flight.