The Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) has opened an investigation into a depressurisation incident on board a Boeing 737-300 freighter that led to one of the pilots becoming incapacitated.
The incident occurred on Wednesday on board 737-300F VH-XMO en route from Brisbane to Melbourne.
“The ATSB is investigating a depressurisation and crew incapacitation involving a B737, VH-XMO, near Narrandera NSW, 15 August 2018,” the ATSB said on its website.
“During cruise, the crew of the cargo flight received a wing body overheat warning resulting in a reduction of cabin pressure.
“The crew donned oxygen and descended to 20,000ft. The first officer was subsequently incapacitated and the captain descended to 8,000 ft and diverted the aircraft to Canberra.”
The ATSB said it expected to complete its investigation by the fourth quarter of calendar 2018.
“As part of the investigation, the ATSB will collect and examine information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and interview maintenance and flight crew,” the ATSB said.
“Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify those affected and seek safety action to address the issue.”
Flight tracking website FlightAware showed the aircraft descended from an altitude of 26,000ft at 2325 to an altitude of 8,000ft at 2331 before levelling off and subsequently landing in Canberra at a little after 0000 on Thursday.
Qantas said emergency services were present to meet the arriving aircraft in Canberra, which was standard procedure.
Further, it said the aircraft landed normally.
“A Qantas Freight service travelling from Brisbane to Melbourne last night diverted into Canberra following a technical fault with the onboard air conditioning system that affected the ability to maintain pressure in the cabin,” a Qantas spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
After spending all day on the ground in Canberra on Thursday, when Qantas engineers inspected the aircraft, the 737 freighter resumed flying at 1100 on Friday, when it flew to Melbourne as QF7301.
The aircraft is operated by Express Freighters Australia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qantas.
It was manufactured in 1987 as a passenger aircraft and flew in Australian Airlines and Qantas colours (including as a New Zealand registered aircraft operated by Qantas’s New Zealand subsidiary Jetconnect) until 2006, when it was converted into a freighter for service with then joint Qantas-Australian Post operation Australian air Express.
The aircraft currently sports Qantas Freight livery.