Hero Qantas pilot who saved 469 lives with an emergency landing forced into retirement by COVID-19

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The hero Qantas pilot who saved 469 lives on board when his plane’s engine exploded mid-air has been forced into early retirement by COVID-19.

This week marks 10 years since Captain Richard de Crespigny, 63, made world headlines for his quick thinking following the mid-air emergency just minutes after QF32 took off from Singapore‘s Changi Airport bound for Sydney.

The A380 jet was four minutes into its journey with 440 passengers and 29 crew members on board when the first explosion occurred, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing at Changi Airport.

Mr de Crespigny’s 45-year flying career has been grounded since April and he has now revealed he won’t take off again as a professional pilot.

Qantas Captain Richard de Crespigny's high flying career has came to an abrupt end

Qantas Captain Richard de Crespigny’s high flying career has came to an abrupt end

‘I am currently stood down and am in limbo, not having flown since March and will take early retirement effective November 30,’ he told traveller.com.au

‘I’ll look up to A380s overhead with memories similar to those of Neil Armstrong, when he looked to the sky and saw his footprint on the moon.’

All but the first decade of his flying career was spent at Qantas.

‘I’ll miss the teams in the cockpit and cabin that together solved problems from bad weather and aircraft failures through to helping passengers in physical and emotional distress,’ he added.

Mr de Crespigny has been flooded with online messages from well-wishes since announcing his retirement. 

‘Congratulations on a fabulous career! And many thanks to you and the crew on #QF32 on landing the A380 safely that day almost 10 years ago. As a passenger on that flight I am very grateful for your skill and calmness under pressure,’ one woman posted on Twitter.

Another added: ‘All of us Qantas loyalists will miss you in the flight deck Captain.’ 

Pictured are passengers alighting the plane at Changi airport after the mid-air emergency

Pictured are passengers alighting the plane at Changi airport after the mid-air emergency

The Australian aviation industry, which contributed $9.7 billion per month to the economy is currently at operating at five per cent capacity, according to Mr de Crespigny.

He doesn’t believe the current situation will improve until international borders reopen and a vaccine is developed.

But he believes the aviation industry will eventually bounce back.

‘I expect a COVID-related bust-boom cycle of a similar type that followed the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. The backlog of weddings and delayed holidays will spur recreational travel when borders open and we trust others to be safe,’ he said.

Mr de Crespigny urges Australians to explore their own nation while overseas travel remains off limits.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) spent 966 days looking into the Qantas near-disaster on November 4, 2010 in what was the largest investigation in the organisation’s history. 

Mr de Crespigny’s first book about the  incident was a global best-seller in 2012.

He revealed more about the ordeal when he released his second book FLY! Life Lessons From The Cockpit Of QF32 in 2018.

Qantas pilot Richard de Crespigny (pictured) has written two book about the near-disaster

Qantas pilot Richard de Crespigny (pictured) has written two book about the near-disaster

He recalled take-off as ‘really was looking like a picture-book day’ as the plane climbed up through 7400 feet.

‘I was about to turn off the seat-belt sign when we heard a relatively small boom, followed one second later by a huge BOOM! which was like nothing I’d ever heard before,’  Mr de Crespigny wrote. 

As alarm bells rang, Mr de Crespigny assessed the situation and realised that a ‘stub pipe’ had fractured, causing oil to leak into the engine and start a fire.

‘The engine’s computers detected a thrust loss, and so did what they were programmed to do – increase the fuel flow. That’s when things went from bad to worse.’

The second, louder boom was the result of the loose turbine disc exploding ‘like a supernova’ as it was pumped with more and more fuel.

Mr de Crespigny explained how – now 12 minutes into the flight – ‘the mounting and cascading failures overloaded’ his mind.

Footage of the emergency landing back at Singapore's Changi Airport in November 2010

Footage of the emergency landing back at Singapore’s Changi Airport in November 2010

‘I figured there had to be another way out of this mess,’ he said.

‘Sometimes we have to create our own novel solutions.’

The captain and his crew spent the next two hours in the air working up a solution to save the lives of everyone on board and land safely back at Changi Airport.

Mr de Crespigny concluded that they had no option but to come in ‘too fast (with brakes malfunctioning), too heavy (because we were loaded with excess fuel we could not jettison), with a broken wing, little roll control, no autopilot or auto-thrust’.

Drawing on his many years of training and experience, the Captain actioned his plan and – despite computer warnings telling him ‘SPEED! SPEED!’ and ‘STALL! STALL’ – miraculously landed the plane back on the tarmac at Changi Airport.

Richard de Crespigny spent 35 years at Qantas before he was forced into early retirement

Richard de Crespigny spent 35 years at Qantas before he was forced into early retirement

Eight fire trucks immediately surrounded the plane and started hosing it down, but the nightmare wasn’t over yet as he was unable to stop the engine.

‘I made the complex decision that our passengers and crew were safer inside the aircraft than out of it,’ he said.

Two hours after landing, passengers were eventually escorted off the plane, and a further hour and a half later, the engine was finally stopped. 

‘I loved my job and regarded it as a privilege to make my living doing something so challenging and satisfying, accompanied by skilled and dedicated colleagues at the top of their game,’ Mr de Crespigny wrote.

‘I feel exactly the same pride today.’

The engine of the Qantas jet exploded just four minutes after Mr de Crespigny took off bound for Sydney. Pictured is the damaged jet after it returned to Singapore's Changi Airport

The engine of the Qantas jet exploded just four minutes after Mr de Crespigny took off bound for Sydney. Pictured is the damaged jet after it returned to Singapore’s Changi Airport

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