Air Crash Investigation S13E10 – Qantas 32: Titanic In The Sky

There has been a lot of recent interest in the production entitled “Air Crash Investigation S13E10 – Qantas 32: Titanic In The Sky”.     This program has been broadcast on the National Geographic channel. 

Dad (Peter) and Concord Captain Christopher Orlebar in the Concord Cockpit (2014)

Dad (Peter) and Concord Captain Christopher Orlebar in the Concord Cockpit (2014)

Closing Statement

At the time of my interview, our story was planned to be the final episode (ever) in the Air Crash Investigators series.  So I was determined to use this opportunity to acknowledge my ancestors that had toiled and suffered to make aviation what it is today – perhaps the safest transportation industry in the world.  Click here to view my article “Flight – 100 Years Ago Today”

What a privilege.   What a responsibility!

Captain Phil Brentnall - Comet Captain (Photo RDC)

Captain Phil Brentnall – Comet Captain (Photo RDC)

My final words were intended to thank everyone who had contributed to aviation.  I wanted to acknowledge the earliest pioneers; those who had assembled in London at the Royal Aero Club Dinner on the 4th March 1914, and their descendants.

I particularly wanted to thank; Armstrong, Boeing, Bird, Boyd, Brabazon, Brentnall, Crossfield, De Havilland, Earhart, Gagarin, Garros, Glenn, Hawker, Haynes, Hinkler, Hoover, Hughes, Johnson x 2, Kingsford-Smith, Kranz, Kuchemann, Langley, Lindbergh, Lovell, Lowe, Ogilvie, McLean, Moody, Orlebar, Roe, Rolls, Royce, Sikorsky, Smith, Sopwith, Sullenberger, Sutter, Turcat, Ulm, Von Braun, Whitcomb, Whittle, Wright, Yeager and Ziegler, and so many more.

It’s a pity that my final statement (shown at the end of the program) was shortened.   I actually said:

The Lancet 1918

The Lancet 1918

The QF32 story – it’s not about me as the pilot in command of QF32,  the pilots, the cabin crew or even my airline.    It’s a story of resilience and team excellence where 8 teams pooled the industry’s knowledge, training, experience and worked together to survive a Black Swan Event.  It’s about aviation that for the last 110 years has shared their knowledge and experience to made aviation safer for the travelling public.

The Other Side of Air Crash Investigators

Neil Armstrong (Courtesy NASA)

Neil Armstrong (Courtesy NASA)

Tony Hughes is the first person to critically analyse the QF32 event and discuss the need for every person to be a PR and Brand Ambassador for their company.   Click here to view his (very popular) article:  What Air Crash Investigations Didn’t Tell You About QF32 (Airbus A380)

I  also share Tony’s respect for Jim Collins and other excellent authors on leadership, crisis management, teamwork  and decision making.  Indeed here is my past review of Jim’s book “Good to Great“.

For More Information


VH-OQJ at London in April 2013. (Courtesy Richard de Crespigny)

VH-OQJ (Bert Hinkler) at London in April 2013. (Photo RDC)

Post any questions below.

I will attempt to answer questions that have not been analysed in the book.

(Think of Bert Hinkler whenever you see the A380 registered VH-OQJ)

Extoplasm and contrails behind an Emirates A380 at 35,000 feet (2,000 feet below us) flying east over the Indian Ocean (Photo RDC)

Extoplasm and contrails behind an Emirates A380 at 35,000 feet (2,000 feet below us) flying east over the Indian Ocean (Photo RDC)


  1. Hi Richard,

    First of all I must stress my admiration for what you’ve all in the cockpit done that day in November 2010. There were so many things wrong and everything could have ended up in a whole different way.

    I never get tired of watching the air crash investigation episode about QF32. I adore this show and have seen many episodes.

    I’ve been interested in aviation since childhood (because there’s nobody close to me working in this field) and while in elementary school, I thought I would become an Air Traffic Controller. Piloting never interested me. But as the years passed, I realised that this was just.. you know .. childhood fantasy.

    Now I’m in my early twenties with my future wishes much more clearly done, so now I know for sure, that I will become a member of the cabin crew. Air Crash Investigation episodes normally do not feature cabin crew work, but there’s lot to learn. And since becoming cabin crew is my life goal, I love learning every little piece of this job and the things connected to it. I usually like the worst disasters the most, because that’s where one can learn the most.

    I have a question re QF32 of Nov 4 2010. When the aircraft was safely on the ground, the ordeal was far from over. There was fuel leaking under the damaged engine and the number 1 engine wouldn’t shut down.

    However, evacuation was not performed until firefighters made sure, that there was no fuel fire. You then ordered the evacuation. But why didn’t you do it before, just after the plane stopped?

    Fuel fire was the biggest danger, so in my amateur opinion it would be normal to get people off the aircraft ASAP. A fuel fire obviously wasn’t excluded until there was enough foam to cover it, but until firefighters managed to do so, fire could break in any second.

    One more thing. You’ve been flying for decades now and having watched videos of you, I can tell that you simply love being in the air. How many years more can you fly? Do pilots have some kind of age restriction (my dad’s long-haul bus driver, so I know a bit..).

    Thanks for your answers to my questions. Also, thank you very much indeed for being one of my biggest inspirations on pursuing my life goal.

    All the events on that flight, that could have so easily ended in a catastrophe, made me wish be a part of such an excellent extraordinary committed team, to be there for the people when it’s most needed. When there’s no emergency, just to enjoy the planes and flying. This is what I’ve been dreaming of since childhood.

    Wish you lots of pleasurable and safe flights!


    Petra 🙂

    1. Hi Petra,

      Thank you for your long message. I am also proud of the team efforts made by air and ground crew on the 10th November, proud that the training and experience produced the best outcome, and proud that we can learn lessons from all these events.

      To answer your questions:

      • I can fly internationally whilst I hold a medical clearance and until I am 65 years old
      • The role of the airport fire crew is not to put out fires. Their role is to protect the aircraft fuselage and escape routes for evacuation.
      • We did not evacuate the passengers during the QF32 event. This was a deliberate decision that I think saved lives. The ATSB commented that this decisions prevented injuries. Even André Turcat, the pilot I respect the most commented recently: “He made the decision, unique to my mind, to not evacuate the passengers. He waited until the fire crews had secured the site. To me, that flight was the finest example of mastery of the aircraft”.
      • Please read my story Empirical Sceptic for more about the decision wheter to evacuate or not.

        The details of our decision whether to evacuate or not was one of the most complex decisions that we made during the QF32 event. This topic was too long to fully detail in my book QF32.
        You need to understand threat and error management, the threats and risks of fire, evacuation, the chemistry of jet fuel, aircraft certification, evacuation statistics, rescue service protocols, aircraft systems and to be prepared for the unexpected. You have have teamwork and decision making skills if you are to make continual and correct decisions. You should not PRESUME or ASSUME for these biases can put lives at risk, especially when you are making decisions that will affect the survival of 469 passengers and crew.

      Kind regards Rich

  2. William Trail · · Reply

    Hi Richard,

    On QF32’s flight deck that day was a combination of Australia’s best of the best, a knowledge-pool of the world’s best A380 Check Captains and younger pilots, and likewise with the cabin crew – you tapped-and managed all that trained-and practiced wealth-of-expertise.

    Between you all, the expertise was successfully harnessed to manage a very wounded and unstable ship all the way back to safety. Qantas came of age, its Finest Hour. The Aviation Bar has been raised throughout the world because of the learnings and your experiential teachings. Nancy-bird Walton would be very proud of you all.

    We all love your work. Bill.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments Bill. The QF32 story is one of team excellence where eight teams worked wonderfully to overcome a Black Swan Event. I am so proud to remain a member of these teams and my airline.

      Safe flying and best wishes. Rich

  3. Peter Clarke · · Reply

    Hi Richard,
    I’m confused by you reference to not passing the route check. According to your earlier comments if a captain fails the route check his career is over. Did you actually fail – and therefore incur the consequences, or is it a case of you were unable to complete the check due to the circumstances? If the former I would find that quite unreasonable.
    Thanks, Peter

  4. I love planes and 1 day hope to be a pilot. Richard you are so inspiring and a great pilot

  5. Matthew Clemow · · Reply

    Hi Richard,
    I too am an avid watcher of Air Crash Investigation and have watched the QF32 episode.

    Through my watching of Air Crash Investigation, I have devolved a passion for aviation and I am exploring this passion by being involved in the Australian Air Force Cadets and I hope to one day either get into ADFA or get involved in commercial aviation through a cadetship program, such as those offered by REX or Qantas.

    I have also read QF32 a few times and I found the whole book, especially on your time in the RAAF, interesting and a great read.

    Thanks, Matthew

    1. Thanks for your kind words Matthew. Best wishes for you following your passion to fly. You will succeed if you are healthy and put in the “hours”.

      Be sure to read my blog regarding seeking an aviation career.

      Best Wishes, Rich

  6. Jeremija Buzzard · · Reply

    Dear Sir,

    It is my life dream to become a commercial pilot.
    What is the name of the pilot on Qantas Flight 32 that day?
    Also the name of the plane of Qantas Flight 32?
    Also the name of your book so I can read it please
    God Bless

    1. Dear Jeremija,

      The answers to all your questions are in my book.

      Best Wishes

      Rich (Pilot In Command – QF32)

  7. Steven Genat · · Reply

    Great flying Richard,

    I am an Australian and never ever fly any airline except QANTAS. I am in my early 60’s and I first started flying QANTAS in the 60s as an 11 year old when I flew to Europe and other selected Asian countries where QANTAS flew.

    There is none better than a QANTAS crew anywhere in the world and this proves it conclusively. After seeing your and your crew’s efforts, I would never ever fly anything other than QANTAS.

    Let’s hope QANTAS recovers from the adverse problems that it faces today and flies forever.

    Congratulations on your efforts and your crew’s efforts, you are all heroes.

  8. Shikhar Joshi · · Reply

    Hi Sir,
    I’m an 18 year old from New Delhi, India and wish to become a commercial pilot. It’s my only dream in this life. Just wanted to congratulate you for what you and your crew did. You guys inspire and motivate me to work harder towards my dream.

    God Bless


    1. Thanks Shikhar for the kind comments.

      Work hard, play hard and reach for the stars. You will have a great career flying the big jets!

      Best Regards Rich

  9. Stuart Holloway · · Reply


    I’ve read your book but was not sure of the context of the answer given in the book.
    What was your final assessment given by your check captain on QF32, if I recall in the book he said you failed?

    Does pilot simulator training now include more extreme events, or was it viewed QF32 was such a rare event that little could be gained from incredibly complex emergency simulations?

  10. Tim woods · · Reply

    Hi Richard,
    I agree with Paul, CH9 was not good at all, after 40 mins I had not learned anything. ACI was great and gave the crew a great opportunity to give an account of what happened.

    I believe there is a fault in their presentation however, they reported that you disengaged the autopilot to take control of the aircraft , but soon after had you saying that you pressed the alt button to bring the nose down.
    No doubt they both happened, but maybe in reverse order, the alt button would have no affect unless the AP was on, correct?

    1. Hi Tim,

      You are correct. I did not disengage the autopilot after the engine failed.

      I did disengage the autopilot for the flight control checks.

      The autopilot also disengaged a few times before and during the approach when the speed reduced below the Valpha protection speed (when the Calibrated Air Speed (CAS) was just 7 knots above the stall speed (Vs)).

      Interestingly, the first uncommanded autopilot disconnect occurred during the reconfiguration at 4,353 Radio Altitude when the CAS was 169 kts (Vls 165, Vs 162)). Clearly, it was not good that the PRIMary flight control computers calculated and displayed an incorrect Vls speed. The autopilot disconnects were a clue that we were flying too slow. Fortunately the flight control checks mitigated all these additional failures.

  11. Hello Richard: 

    Im intrigued by the HAC (Armstrong Spiral) maneuver you mention on QF32 when you wanted to return to Changui and prepare for a worst case scenario (total eng failure) and glide back.

    All I’ve been able to find on Google is a brief description on how the shuttle used it.

    Could you please explain how would you apply this concept to bring back a A380 or any big commercial plane in a practical way? I.e. Aiming distance for runway, speed, how to manage energy, etc…

    Thank you, Paul Balaresque

    1. Good question Paul.

      I will answer your question in a separate page.

      Please subscribe to these articles (at the top right of this page). You will then be automatically notified when the answer is published.

  12. Paul Seaman · · Reply

    Hi Richard,

    I’m an avid watcher of Air Crash Investigation. I’ve already seen the QF32 episode and thought it was a good retelling of the events given episode time constraints.

    I must say that I was very disappointed with Nine’s “Mayday”. In my opinion it was not worth watching. My advice would be to watch Four Corners coverage and Air Crash Investigation. I reckon between them you get a pretty good retelling.


  13. Great program Richard!

    I preferred the book anyway!

  14. Paul Seaman · · Reply

    Hi Richard,
    Is there a higher resolution version of your Emirates A380 photo available? I’d love to use it as wallpaper on my iPad.
    Thanks, Paul

    1. Hi Paul,

      I have uploaded a high resolution print. Click on the image to see it in full resolution. Then copy this image.

      The image quality is limited by distortions in the aircraft’s side windows.

      Best regards. Rich

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