Mayday Mayday

Flying east at 37,000 feet over the Indian Ocean (Photo R de Crespigny)
Flying east at 37,000 feet over the Indian Ocean (Photo R de Crespigny)

Update 22 Feb 2012

I think the Canadian “Air Crash Investigation S13E10 – Qantas 32: Titanic In The Sky” production  (as shown on the National Geographic channel) is better.

Mayday Mayday – Terror on QF32

Peter Overton presented “Mayday Mayday – Terror on QF32” a special investigation into flight QF32 in Australia on On Sunday 16th February.

The one hour program analysed the QF32 flight.  Peter Overton, the narrator explained:  “it’s a gripping tale of what went wrong”    Peter reveals more in this recent interview (that might only be viewed in Australia).

The program also analyses two other controversial accidents that I had researched for my Big Jets book.

XL Airways Germany Flight 88T (A320) – France

Interesting traces from the A320 investigation. A “G” plot would have been interesting.

I studied the the BEA accident report after it was released, particularly the flight data recorder graphs.    I sumarised my investigation with the phrase that should reverberate in every pilot’s mind, and the phrase that I insisted be the title for QF32 Chapter 19 (the chapter that described the A380’s flight control laws):

United Flight 232 (DC-10) – USA

The second incident was the United Flight 232, a DC-10 flight on the 19th July 1989 commanded by Captain Alfred (Al)  Haynes.   The fan rotor  on #2 engine suffered an uncontained failure that caused a loss of all the three hydraulic systems that powered the flight controls.  The aircraft subsequently crashed at Sioux City.  (Click here to view the NTSB report).

Captain Haynes, his crews and the Sioux City rescue services executed a remarkable recovery in the most challenging circumstances.   Simulator trials after the event suggested that most pilots would not be able to control an aircraft without powered flight controls to land safely.

Mark Johnson, Matt Hicks, me, David Evans, Harry Wubben  (Photo: R de Crespigny)

Mark Johnson, Matt Hicks, me, David Evans, Harry Wubben (Photo: R de Crespigny)

Of the 296 people on board, 111 were killed in the crash.  The remarkable survival of 185 is due to the exemplary performance of Al Haynes and his crews, the Sioux City rescue services, as well as the 285 additional trained personnel from the Iowa Air National Guard that by chance were also on duty at Sioux City airport to help with triage and evacuation.

Captain Haynes said after the flight:  “We were too busy (to be scared).  You must maintain your composure in the airplane or you will die. You learn that from your first day flying.”

Captain Haynes’ management of the crisis is a text book example of Crew Resource Management (CRM), and Leadership:

  • Aviate (someone has to focus on flying the aircraft!)
  • Work as a team.
  • Make good decisions.    Use all available resources.  Tap into your fellow pilots’ knowledge, skill and experience
  • Communicate to all stakeholders (including the cabin attendants, passengers and air traffic control)
QF 32 Crew

18 of the 25 QF 32 Cabin Crew at the Cabin Crew eXcel Awards Ceremony 2011


  1. Kalev Pank · · Reply

    Hi Richard,

    Following on from the comment by Stephen Holt above – what was the “technical reason” for not passing the check test? I imagine it was due to the circumstances not your lack of skill!

    Thanks for a marvellous book, it was inspiring and a great learning experience.

  2. Stephen Holt · · Reply

    I found the Air Crash Investigation program a bit disappointing and thought the Four Corners program was better. But neither is as good as reading Richard’s book “QF32” for the full story.

    A couple of things astounded me. I did some flying in my youth, but that was a long time ago.

    First that you had only a one knot landing speed limit and how you kept an aircraft of that size within that limit with one engine out and the rest degraded was amazing.

    Second, you mentioned that you did not pass your check test. I thought that was very unfair . Did your check pilot expect to have a robot flying the plane? All the robots failed!

    All the best, and thanks for writing the book

  3. Hugh Ferrar · · Reply

    I’m afraid I am always disappointed by TV documentary specials, especially having read the book.

    It was good in bringing the story to a wider audience, and the references to the other crashes were good, but disappointing in not describing how you flew around in circles for hours working out how to land the plane.

    It did not mention the problem of being unable to dump fuel, or explain why the stall warning went off on final approach.

    The description in your book re the actual explanation of what happened inside no. 2 engine is far more interesting than the abbreviated TV version. Perhaps your version was too technical for general TV.

    It did not talk about control checks!

    Arguably the worst omission was finishing the story when the plane stopped rolling, and not mentioning that it then sat on the tarmac leaking fuel with one engine still running and 400+ people on board for some time.

    It also consistently talked about a computer system failure, which isn’t really fair on the computer system – it kept giving you information that would otherwise have been unavailable and ultimately helped you make a safe landing.

    But the thing that I hate most about those TV docos is that they keep repeating themselves over & over again! They must assume that most of their audience forget everything they have seen during a commercial break!

    All the best & stay safe!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Hugh.

      I was not involved in the production nor was I asked to verify the data.

      Best Regards


  4. Mandy Squair · · Reply

    Hi Rich,

    I happened to check my emails on my iPhone at 8.40 last night. We were visiting friends in Griffith NSW. I saw your email and immediately turned on the TV and watched the programme.

    Very interesting, especially as it took a different approach and compared QF32 with the 2 other incidents! It just shows how pilots need to be prepared for anything, especially the unexpected! We are hoping that you will be able to come and talk to us at the RAeS Canberra, perhaps 8 April, as your roster allows? With best wishes, Mandy

  5. Stuart Manley · · Reply

    Oh what a disappointing show. Poorly presented, repetitive and with errors. Such a shame, typical of our commercial TV friends unfortunately.

    It could have been so much better and informative as well as reassuring. At least it praised you guys up front but no mention of the award wining cabin crew.

    How is the new book coming along?

    Regards Stuart Manley

    1. Stuart thank you for identifying the cabin crew for their contribution, for cabin crew are often inadvertently overlooked.

      I am profoundly proud of every member of the QF32 cabin crew. They managed individually and as a team, a Black Swan event that they had not (by definition) anticipated, nor trained for and executed the safe return of every passenger to their loved ones.

      You cannot excel any more than that!

  6. Hi Richard,

    Do you know whether you could post a copy of this documentary on your website for us less fortunate folks in New Zealand?! Always love to hear everything an anything new! Hope life is doing you good.

    1. Hi Jake,

      I will enquire next week. The original show was produced in the UK so there might be licencing restrictions.

      22 February – Click here to view the program


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