Back-story QF32 p 141 – Michael von Reth

Richard and Michel von Reth (in front of his favorite indigenous artwork). Sydney 2011

Introduction (by Richard de Crespigny) – 31 July 2012

Me, Alan Joyce, Michael Von Reth (2011)

Me, Alan Joyce, Michael Von Reth (2011)

Michael is a humble and self effacing man who shies away from being held up for accolades. A man I hold in the greatest of respect (Susan Rice, Cabin Safety Specialist, CASA)

It is rare that I find myself in absolute awe in the presence of a professional who sets the best example for all his peers.   But I feel this awe when I am near Cabin Service Manager Michael Von Reth.    During QF32, Michael lead his team of 22 cabin crew, taking control of the passengers and working outside the square to calm and control everyone during the QF32 event.   The QF32 book details Michael’s actions but does little to expose the man and his knowledge and experience.

So this is Michael’s story, written by Michael.   He misses one aspect, that he is fluent in five languages, but spoke in eight “tongues” to our diverse group of passengers.

After you read this, there should be no doubt why Michael had the background, experience and skill to lead his crew and passengers over our four hour event, and why the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) awarded Michael its prestigious “Professionalism Award in Flight safety” – the first time this award has been presented to a cabin crew member in the FSF”s 64 year history.

Michael’s Story

QF 32 Crew

QF 32 Crew

I joined Qantas Airways as a Flight Attendant on 03 February 1986 in Sydney, Australia. I am now a Customer Service Manager with the Company on the Airbus A380 with previous experience on Airbus A330, Boeing B747, and B767.

Other positions I held previous to this one was Cabin Crew Lufthansa German Airlines and Condor Airlines in Frankfurt/Germany, flying on Airbus A300, A320, Boeing B707, B727, B747, and McDonald Douglas DC-10.

I served as an German Airforce NCO within the Nuclear Planning Group at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Mons/Belgium, as well as an NCO at the German Airforce (GAF) in Hamburg and Cologne/Germany. Prior to this I was employed within the German Public Service at the Federal Chancellery in Bonn/Germany, and the German Space Research Association (GfW) in Bonn/Germany.

Occupational Health and Safety as well as operational safety in the aviation industry has always been of particular interest to me and therefore received a great deal of attention throughout my carrier within that industry.

Curriculum Vitae

Several Languages Aircraft Accident Investigation Courses at

  • University of Cranfield, United Kingdom
  • Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) Canberra, Australia
  • FAA Civil Aviation Medical Institute, Oklahoma City, USA
  • Qantas Airways Corporate Safety, Sydney
  • Australia Occupational Health and Safety Training at WorkCover Authority of NSW, Sydney and  Qantas Corporate Safety, Sydney

Qantas Airways

  • Aircraft Cabin Safety Investigator
  • Cabin Crew Technical Working Group
  • Aircraft Cabin Reconfiguration Group
  • New aircraft design, lay-out and service introduction group
  • In-flight Services Division Safety Summit
  • Regulatory Affairs
  • Occupational Health and Safety Committee

Employee Representative

  • OH&S Chairperson of the International Division, Sydney
  • OH&S Chairperson of the International Division, nationally
  • OH&S Chairperson of the Combined International and Domestic Divisions, nationally
  • Flight Attendants Association of Australia (FAAA)
  • Federal Occupational Health and Safety Officer International Transport Workers Federation (ITF)
  • Aircraft Cabin Design Task Group
  • Cabin Safety Group
  • Regulatory Affairs Group
  • Cabin Crew Licensing Group
  • Flight Duty Time Limitations

Boeing Company

  • Aircraft Cabin Design Task Group
  • American Flight Attendants Association (AFA)
  • Cabin Design Task Group
  • Cabin Crew Licensing

Joint Aviation Authority (JAA)

  • Very Large Transport Working Group
  • Regulatory Affairs Group

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

  • Cabin Crew Licensing Group

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

  • Regulatory Review Group
  • Cabin Crew Licensing Group
  • Flight Duty Time Limitations Group Founding Member and Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Cabin Safety Working Group (APCSWG)
  • Member of the Australian Society of Air Safety Investigators (ASASI)

On QF32

Michael Von Reth

Michael Von Reth

Despite all the training received, all the skills and knowledge acquired throughout all these years, one is never prepared to expect the unexpected on such a scale like this occurrence was, during a seemingly normal operation being executed on a daily basis many times over throughout the entire aviation industry worldwide.

When the Unthinkable Happens

Yet the unexpected did happen on this flight.  No matter how much you are being ‘primed and trained’ to act/react in a certain manner if you are confronted with an ‘out of the ordinary’ life threatening emergency, one can only hope that the relentless, thorough and repetitive training in the emergency procedures training centre over all these years has given you the tools to react in a manner that is most appropriate, confident, cool, calm and collected, when it is your time to respond to a serious challenge.

You are doing well if you can ‘perform as desired’ e.g. decisive, cool, calm, collected and appropriate for the situation (for which there might be no text book procedure in how to respond) .

In this particular case the entire technical and cabin crew have performed well an ‘text book like’, with a very positive/good outcome for all parties involved.

Four Years Later ….  (January  2015)

Richard de Crespigny writes:  I have pleasure in copying the following note from Susan Rice, a Cabin Safety Specialist at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Australia, in response to this analysis at LinkedIn of QF32 by Tony Hughes.   My airline is privileged to have Michael Von Reth amongst its ranks.   Though words cannot fully express my admiration and respect for Michael , Susan’s comments below show that my respect for Michael’s contribution to aviation safety is also shared by the highest exemplars in the aviation industry.

Mr von Reth was likely one of the most experienced and knowledgeable members of cabin crew, not only in Australia, but internationally

….  many thanks for a well balanced and finely written piece.  I’ve not read all 328 ‘comments’ thus far, but did manage to read quite a few.



This accident was unique on so many levels and difficult to encapsulate all the human factors elements in short amount of time.  ……   I would now like to introduce a different element of the ‘customer’ management to the discussion.

Much factual information has been documented about the optimum outcome that was achieved and how positive was the ‘customer’ feedback subsequent to the conclusion of the event. However, very little has been commented openly about the leadership skills demonstrated by the Onboard Manager, Mr Michael von Reth.

I noted with distinct disappointment and dismay that the ATSB final report contained very little information about events that occurred within the cabin during those hours after take-off to the disembarkation of all on board through one door on the right hand side, onto one bus at a time. There has been much documented reference to training of aircrew, in this circumstance there was not a training program or manual reference for cabin crew to refer.  From the initial explosion until the finality of being in the terminal with the passengers, there was little documented reference to comply with or follow.

Prior to this occurrence Mr von Reth was likely one of the most experienced and knowledgeable members of cabin crew, not only in Australia, but internationally. And now, subsequent to this accident I dare say his experience would rank him up with the most skilled and knowledgeable. I recall there being reference in this original article to support from within Qantas for Richard, even though he went outside of procedures – not that there were any written procedures to accommodate multiple systems failures as occurred on this occasion.

Disappointingly it is worthy of note that Michael did not receive the same or similar support and respect for an extraordinary job well done. He was criticised by some from within the airline for going outside of documented procedures – NOTE: as previously mentioned, there were no documented procedures! Although, it has to be stated, on an international level he has been given many accolades and received great and well deserved applause!

On board he was confronted with many different nationalities in his cabin, all of whom he was able to communicate with on an individual basis. He speaks multiple languages. He had to contend with systems failures that made basic communication with passengers and crew impossible at times.

[Michael] has an extraordinary ability to evaluate a situation and make appropriate decisions with very little reflection. His passengers on that airplane and his crew hold him in the very highest of regard. All of the above to simply say that management of hundreds of passengers and an A380 cabin crew takes skill, knowledge, compassion, composure, strength of character and an ability think clearly.

I know that Richard has supported and provided acknowledgement to Michael of a job well done at every opportunity – Thank you !!!

Michael is a humble and self effacing man who shies away from being held up for accolades. A man I hold in the greatest of respect. A man from whom a great deal could be learned, were there a ‘will’ to gain greater understanding of human behaviour when under enormous stress.

One comment

  1. Michael,

    I think the nicest thing I can say to someone with your experience and professionalism is I hope you are on my next flight. During normal flying your role makes you almost invisible, not any more.

    Thank you

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