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Qantas crew right to fly longer route to land after MAYDAY, probe finds

written by Adam Thorn | August 3, 2023

Map showing VH-XZB flight path and location of the engine failure (ATSB)

The ATSB has vindicated a Qantas flight crew’s decision to take a longer route to land after one of the aircraft’s engines shut down and a MAYDAY was declared.

A new report reveals the decision of staff on the 737 to continue on as planned to Sydney, rather than the closer Norfolk Island, meant “no additional risk” was added to an already “high workload situation”.

The incident occurred on a flight carrying 145 passengers from Auckland in January, but the aircraft subsequently conducted an “uneventful” landing.

The ATSB’s director of transport safety, Kerri Hughes, concluded, “Sydney Airport was on the aircraft’s direct route, had favourable weather conditions forecast, had an extensive emergency response, and a straight-in approach on a very long runway.”

The full report, released on Thursday, said the crew’s response to the engine failure highlighted the benefits of effective decision-making and management of an unexpected situation.


The 737-838, VH-XZB, was flying from Auckland to Sydney on 18 January 2023 when its left engine shut down uncommanded.

In response, the flight crew declared a MAYDAY to prioritise communications with air traffic control and to ensure they were cleared for an immediate descent from 36,000 ft to 24,000 ft.

The left engine could not be restarted in-flight, and the flight crew conducted an uneventful single-engine landing at Sydney Airport about an hour later.

“A subsequent engine teardown inspection identified separation of the radial driveshaft in the engine’s inlet gearbox, which resulted in a mechanical discontinuity between the engine core and accessory gearbox,” Hughes said.

“Loss of drive to the accessory gearbox resulted in a loss of fuel pump pressure and uncommanded shutdown of the engine.”

At the time of the engine failure, the aircraft was around 150 km closer to Norfolk Island than it was to Sydney Airport. However, a diversion to Norfolk Island would have required a deviation from the aircraft’s current track, and Norfolk Island presented changeable weather and operational conditions.

The report also separately revealed how the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder was inadvertently overwritten during maintenance activities after the aircraft arrived in Sydney.

Since the occurrence, Qantas has enhanced its procedures to prevent inadvertent overwriting of cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders.

Qantas will now ensure that when a request is received to secure the cockpit voice recorder and/or flight data recorder, the following steps are to be carried out:

  • Immediately notify the duty technical manager to raise a task in the maintenance software to have the requested item quarantined (or at a minimum, power to the recorders is to be removed).
  • Follow up with a telephone call to the respective port and ensure the ground engineer is advised of the limited timeframe to secure the data.
  • Continually follow up with the applicable ports until positive confirmation of the requested action has been confirmed.

At the time, QF144 passengers praised the work of the staff on board, who worked hard to ensure that everyone was calm. Those on board reportedly heard a loud bang and a “slight shudder” but were not aware of the MAYDAY call until landing.

“We didn’t realise it was the whole engine,” said Simone Schmidt, a passenger on board. “The pilot was really, really good, just brilliant.”

A Qantas spokesperson also reiterated that its pilots are highly skilled and trained in engine failure scenarios regularly.

“While in flight, engine shutdowns are rare and would naturally be concerning for passengers. Our pilots are trained to manage them safely, and aircraft are designed to fly for an extended period on one engine.”

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