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Pilot's brave tale

Qantas captain Richard De Crespigny visited Benalla to talk about his book documenting the terrifying emergency he experienced in mid-air.

January 11, 2013 4:58am

QF32 Qantas captain Richard De Crespigny who saved all 469 people on board a flight that went wrong over Indonesia in 2010 chats to Faris Townsend.

A man who made headlines around the world for saving the lives of 469 people slipped quietly into town last week.

Qantas pilot Richard De Crespigny spent time chatting to shoppers and signing copies of his new book, QF32, at Leading Edge Books.

The book tells the terrifying tale of the captain’s experience, which saw his A380 — the pride of the Qantas fleet — start to fall apart shortly after takeoff from Singapore on November 4, 2010.

The Airbus was rocked by an engine explosion that ripped the aircraft’s vital operating systems to shreds.

Pieces of the $400 million plane fell on Indonesia and, although it was still flying, there were holes in a wing, parts of the fuselage had been blown off and fuel was streaming out of ruptured tanks.

Even more terrifying for the numerous passengers on board was that they could see the damage and the free-flowing fuel on their entertainment system which relayed a bird’s eye view from a tail camera.

‘‘Everything was normal when we took off and four minutes into the flight, at 7000 feet, there were two bangs — boom, boom,’’ Mr De Crespigny said.

‘‘It sounded like a backfire in a car and the aircraft started to swerve slightly. I knew it was an engine failure.’’

The captain’s experience — 23 years with Qantas and 11 years in the Royal Australian Air Force — undoubtedly saved the lives of everyone on board.

He said the loss of one engine was not cause for great concern when there were four and pilots were trained to cope with such incidents, which happen once in every 300000 flying hours.

However, this was worse than anyone could imagine.

The cockpit turned into a frenzy of red warning lights and buzzing alarms, but Mr De Crespigny said there was an air of calm amongst the pilots, even when it became known during the next hour that 21 out of 22 vital operating systems (such as engines, brakes, hydraulics, pneumatics, pressurisation and cooling) were affected — many of them shredded by shrapnel that had travelled at twice the speed of sound.

For months after the incident, Mr De Crespigny said he was ‘‘maxed out’’ and mentally affected.

‘‘I was crying, my mind was frenetically busy reliving the flight and I was exhausted even though our flight had a happy outcome,’’ he said.

Mr De Crespigny sought help for post-traumatic stress. He didn’t fly for four months, but is now back in the cockpit.

He said when the unthinkable happened, how you reacted was determined by your knowledge, training and experience.

‘‘There is a need for good training of pilots, we are not just glorified bus drivers,’’ he said.

Mr De Crespigny recalled his first RAAF flight, in which his instructor put him into a potentially deadly spin towards the ground.

‘‘I was put under great stress and that means I am now never comfortable in flight,’’ he said.

‘‘I mean, I am happy to be flying, but at any time in flight you are only a few seconds from a possible disaster if something goes wrong.’’

A day after the QF32 incident, Mr De Crespigny was a passenger on a flight taking him home when there was a familiar popping noise.

You guessed it, the engine failed, but this time without an explosion.

‘‘It was enough to turn us back to Singapore, but it wasn’t dramatic,’’ he said.

‘‘Things didn’t fall apart this time. I just looked at one of the flight crew, who rolled her eyes to say, ‘Here we go again’.’’

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