Mon, Jul 28, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Oxygen tank might have caused Qantas explosion

HARROWING FLIGHT Investigators were focusing on a missing oxygen cylinder, which they said may have been the cause of the near disaster on the Qantas 747 flight

AFP , SYDNEY

Air safety investigators said yesterday that an exploding oxygen cylinder may have been to blame for tearing a huge hole in an Australian Qantas jumbo jet in mid-air, nearly causing a disaster.

Officials said an oxygen back-up cylinder is missing from the aircraft, and ordered the airline to inspect all such bottles on its fleet of Boeing 747s.

The Qantas Boeing 747 had been flying from Hong Kong to Melbourne on Friday when an explosive bang led to a sudden loss of air pressure in the cabin.

The Qantas flight, which had originated in London and was carrying 365 passengers and crew, plunged roughly 6,000m before stabilizing, then made an emergency landing in the Philippine capital Manila.

There, stunned passengers saw a 3m hole in the fuselage adjoining the right wing.

An investigator from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Neville Blyth, told reporters in Manila that an oxygen back-up cylinder was missing.

“It is too early to say whether this was the cause of the explosion,” Blyth said. “But one of the cylinders which provides back-up oxygen is missing.”

He said investigators had ruled out terrorism.

“There is no evidence of a security related event here. Philippine sniffer dogs have inspected the baggage and found no materials of concern,” Blyth said.

Blyth would not comment on the oxygen cylinder, which is roughly the size of a diver’s scuba tank, nor say how many were on the aircraft.

He said the initial inquiry would take two to three days and a preliminary report on the findings should be released in two to three months.

Peter Gibson, a spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said in Sydney that there were two cylinders “located pretty much exactly where that hole appeared.”

“Clearly that is one key focus of the investigation,” he said.

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