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Airbus explosion grounds fleet

A mid-air explosion followed by a shower of debris led many to fear the worst yesterday for a Qantas Airbus A380 that had just taken off from Singapore.

In the event, the plane made an emergency landing, trailing smoke from a blackened engine — and raising questions about the superjumbo's safety.

The Australian airline grounded its entire Airbus A380 fleet after flight QF32 developed engine trouble minutes into a flight to Sydney.

Both passengers and witnesses on the ground heard a loud explosion, and debris — including a chunk bearing Qantas's red-and-white kangaroo emblem — rained on the Indonesian city of Batam, on an island just south of Singapore.

The plane circled over Indonesian territory for nearly two hours, dumping fuel, before returning to Changi Airport.

None of the 459 passengers and crew was injured, nor was anyone on the ground.

Two passengers said they saw flames shooting out of the stricken left engine. Tyler Wooster told Australia's Channel Nine: “My whole body went to jelly, and I didn't know if we were going to be okay.”

Alan Joyce, Qantas chief executive, said one of its four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines had failed.

He said A380 services would be suspended “until we are completely confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met”.

Hailed as the most exciting development in air travel since the jumbo jet, the A380 — the world's largest passenger aircraft, with a capacity of 525 people — made its maiden flight on the same Singapore to Sydney route three years ago.

Five airlines now fly the double-decker superjumbo, which was beset by production delays following its launch in 2005.

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