Irish couple relive flight terror after huge hole appears in fuselage
An Irish couple have described the terror of being on a packed passenger jumbo jet when a gaping hole appeared in the fuselage 30,000ft in the air.
George Kierans and his wife Dolores were on the Qantas Boeing 747 which was flying from London to Melbourne when flooring gave way, part of the ceiling collapsed and debris flew into the first-class cabin.
By yesterday the Drogheda couple had managed to get their belongings together and hopped on a plane again to bring them to Australia.
Hours earlier it was a different plane and different circumstances, as frightened passengers had to don oxygen masks as the plane descended after losing cabin pressure on the Hong Kong-Melbourne leg of the flight early yesterday.
"It was just in the middle of when the meals were being served. There was a loud explosion in the cabin and the plane suddenly plummeted from the sky,'' said Mr Kierans.
"At that stage obviously oxygen masks and everything fell down and nobody had any idea what was going on.''
Film shot by passengers and displayed on websites showed the scenes on board the plane as the captain announced that he was making for Manila in the Philippines for an emergency landing, which happily worked out. All 346 passengers and 19 crew were able to disembark normally.
On the recording, applause for the crew from the passengers as the plane touched down can clearly be heard.
"For three or four minutes it was very scary stuff,'' said Mr Kierans, speaking to RTE radio from a hotel room in Manila.
Inside the jet
"Obviously when the masks shoot down in front of you, you do realise you're definitely in a very dangerous situation. I actually thought it was an engine blew originally. The plane seemed to tilt considerably to one side," he said.
But Mr Kierans, who was travelling to visit his son Shane (25) in Australia, said passengers didn't panic as the mid-air drama was unfolding inside the plane.
''There actually wasn't really any great panic on the plane. I think most people were in a state of shock,'' he said.
"I don't think anybody had an idea of what was happening. The pilot did come on air a couple of minutes later and just said to everybody to stay in their positions and he would keep in touch with what was happening," he explained.
"As you looked out the window of the plane you could see they were burning off fuel and he switched off two of the engines. At that stage the plane was at a very low altitude," he said.
It was only when Mr Kierans got on to the runway he realised the extent of the damage.
"When we went to the far side to see the hole, we knew definitely that we had one very lucky escape.''
But for the couple's family at home, it was worse.
"Being woken at 6am by a message that says your parents' flight had an explosion is not an alarm call everyone wishes for," said George and Delores's youngest son Niall (22) yesterday.
Both he and his eldest brother, Darren (26), who live in Drogheda, received a text from their brother in Australia.
Niall explains: "Shane, who my parents are going down to see, sent me a text saying there was an explosion on the plane. I just read it and said 'Jaysus'."
"I was a bit blurry, but my first reaction was I just wanted to talk to them, I wanted to talk to someone to find out what was going on," he added.
He says he relaxed when he heard everything was OK. "I got on the phone to them when I heard the flight was down and Da said he's grand, a little shook up, but grand.
"He told me about the flight, the big bang and how the plane dropped, so he seemed fine. Mam was grand too, no problems at all."
"They were just being brought off to a hotel in Manila. Probably just to help them calm down, but I'm sure Da threw a couple of whiskeys down the neck to help that," he laughed.
Delighted that everything was OK, he said: "I just heard that they are already on another flight over to Australia. They could have waited for another one tomorrow, but I guess they just want to get back in the saddle in case they get nervous about it."
Initial investigations suggested that a section of fuselage had separated and that there had been an "explosive decompression''.
Qantas said were no reports of any injuries to passengers or crew.