Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan

With the reliability of modern aircraft, advanced engineering systems, and components that are replaced long before they wear out most airline pilots will never experience an engine in-flight shut down in their careers.

We spend a lot of time planning for that eventuality – completing emergency procedures training, and flying flight simulators where we deal with emergencies and abnormalities right through to landing with only one engine operating. The training has to be rigorous and exacting because there will be no second chance in real life.

Yesterday I had to put that training into action when a malfunction in one of our engines meant we were required to shut it down on descent to our destination. For any nervous flyers out there I can now personally reassure you not only does the training work but when the captain says in their PA ‘This aircraft can comfortably fly on one engine’ they aren’t lying. The aircraft does perform as the manufacturer claims (even better, I suspect!!) and some of our passengers didn’t even notice we’d shut one down until I made my PA and woke them up!

I had a fantastic team with me both in the air and on the ground. Thanks guys, you were exemplary.

While this particular incident isn’t going to end up in a story any time soon, the way my body felt, the adrenalin rush, the clarity of vision, the colour of the world around me, may do. It’s easy to forget that we are pre-programmed by genetics to react to threats by our ‘flight or fight’ response. The role of good training is to keep that response focused on the job at hand. All that makes great fodder for a writer’s devious mind πŸ™‚


18 thoughts on “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan

  1. Not so much canyankerous as the fact there is more to go wrong with a reciprocating engine. More parts than a turboprop for one thing. The Engines fitted to the Strotocruiser had around 29 cylinders and 211 sparkplugs for a start!

  2. DC-3s must have been a little cantankerous, Cathy. I see to remember a saying about checking the fuel and filling the oil tank…

    Good to see it wasn’t your friend involved in the PNG accident…

  3. Not fun. The only other time was on the groumd at Wigram. Again a DC-3, we were starting th starboard engine when it blew a cylinder head. I said a naughty word, we shut her down and the firgaurd put the fire out. We were AOG for two days. Plus I got to fill out an A-35. That’s the form you have to do when youare careless enought to break one of Her Majesty’s aircraft. Something HM Royal NZ AirForce gets alittle cranky about! Glad it all resloved for you? do we know the hames of the crew in PNG. We have a freind flying soewhere in Aussie. Capt Mark Fitzgerald, orginally from Auckland NZ

  4. Dear Capt T, so glad to be able to still make you laugh!!!

    I’m sure I heard a rather gravelly voice in the middle of the whole saga saying ‘ Jesus, woman, what’re ya doin’???”

    Lucky I’ve had good trainers and mentors in the last 23 yrs πŸ™‚

  5. From Herald Sun this morning:

    UPDATE 7.30am: AN Australian is believed to be among four survivors dragged from an aircraft that crashed in Papua New Guinea last night, killing 28 others.

    Early reports indicated the Australian pilot and a New Zealand pilot were on board the Dash 8 aircraft operated by Airlines PNG.

    The flight was enroute from Lae, PNG’s second largest city, to Madang when it went down over dense forest 20km south of the resort port town in bad weather about 6pm Australian time.

    A spokesman for the Accident Investigation Commission said the plane was carrying 32 passengers.

    The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed four people survived the crash.

    “Initial indications are that there are no Australians amongst those killed. The High Commission has undertaken preliminary checks but official confirmation may take some time,” a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

    Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

    End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

    “Airlines PNG and local authorities have advised that there were 28 passengers and 4 crew on board. They understand that four people survived the crash, including one Australian pilot and one New Zealand pilot.”

    Australian Consular officials will travel to Madang today.

    One of the pilots suffered a broken leg while the remaining survivors are believed to be a PNG cabin crew member and an Asian passenger who suffered slight burns. It is not yet clear which pilot injured his leg.

    The four survivors were taken last night to Yamad clinic near the crash site at Transgogol River on the Rai Coast of Madang Province.

    They were last night being moved from the Yamad clinic by boat to Modilon hospital in Madang.

    Airlines PNG this morning confirmed one of its Dash 8 aircraft crashed and grounded its fleet of 12 aircraft until further notice.

    In a statement on its website, the airline said there were 28 passengers and four crew members on the plane and there appeared to be some survivors, while a number of people remained unaccounted for.

    “We are sad to confirm that there has been an accident involving an Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft near Madang late Thursday afternoon,” the airline’s media statement said.

    “Airlines PNG is working with the emergency service authorities to confirm this information in more detail.”

    It said a full investigation was under way by authorities and Airlines PNG as to the possible cause of the accident.

    Eyewitnesses from Marakum village, about three kilometres from the crash site told the Post-Courier last night at Marakum that the plane came down on the banks of the Guabe River and burst into flames on impact.

    Early today rescuers retrieved five bodies from the wreckage.

    The confirmation could take some time as locals report the weather around the crash site was particularly bad.

    Rescue teams were forced back twice at the Guabe river due to heavy rains and had to resort to the use of four boats to reach the crash site, Madang’s provincial police commander Anthony Wagambie Junior reported.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking to confirm with PNG authorities whether any Australian passengers were onboard.

    It is believed that most of the passengers were parents on their way to attend a ceremony involving students at the Divine Word University in Madang.

    The Civil Aviation Authority of Papua New Guinea said the plane had sent out a distress call before the crash.

    “There were reports of fire and there have been some fatalities,” AIC spokesman Sid O’Toole told the ABC.

    PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill asked Australia to help with a massive search and rescue effort last night.

    Australia sent four Black Hawk helicopters to PNG to help and the recovery of victims and crash scene was expected to begin at first light.

    The Black Hawks were already based in Port Moresby for a joint defence force exercise when Mr O’Neill made the request.

    Mr O’Neill had been back in the country less than an hour after flying in from Australia when told of the crash.

    “Our prayers and thoughts are now with all those affected by this very sad day for Papua New Guinea,” the statement said.

    The PNG Public Enterprises Minister Sir Mekere Morauta expressed his sympathy for victims of the crash.

    “This is a terrible accident, and many people have died,” Mr Morauta said.

    “I offer my condolences to the families of the victims of this disaster.

    “I join with all other Papua New Guineans in mourning our loss.”

    It is the second fatal incident involving an Airlines PNG aircraft in recent years.

    In August 2009 an Airlines PNG Twin Otter crashed on approach to the Kokoda airstrip, killing all 13 people on board including nine Australians.

  6. Nice Work, Captain! Congratulations to a first class team, too. Engine oit is never fun. I had one once in A DC-3, but that was also an engine fire. My Port engine ate a valve, did not like the taste, and caught fire. I shut id down, hit the fire bottle…and the bloody fre still continued. LUckily I was close enough to a major airport (PHiladelphia) to get her on the ground quickly.

  7. Oh dear, all that paperwork.

    Still, as you said, being a writer, no experience is wasted. πŸ™‚

    And you DEFINITELY need an iPad – just ask Capt. B, not to mention moi who uses hers all the time crafting in-the-making NYTBSs. πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks, Kerry, it was great to be working with such professionals.

    FO Dan did a stirling job along with Teeqs and Phil (who also sorted out my mobile phone and convinced me I need an iPad after I used his to submitt an ASIR on the ground within an hour of landing!!)

    Sue and her team are indeed salt of the earth. She’d started two hours earlier than we had and she was still going when we left at 7.30 pm… Wonder woman!!

  9. Lol, Cath, your questions were perfect for distracting me from the long wait!

    As to saving lives? Nah, we just did our job πŸ™‚ It actually felt a bit like one of the training sim sessions!! I’m home now with yesterday all safely in perspective.

  10. Well done Helene & the team for a safe outcome.
    I’m sure Sue looked after you. She’s a gem of the outback, that one πŸ™‚

  11. Helene, oh my goodness!! I had no idea yesterday. How mundane to send you interview questions when you’d just saved lives.

    I hope your plane gets fixed soon and you’re back to safe flying without the adrenalin rush and fear. Thank goodness manufacturer’s specs are right!


  12. Gee, Helene, your email yesterday about waiting for the plane to be fixed didn’t have this excitement in it!

    Wow. How lucky were those passengers that they had someone as skilled as you to bring them safely down.

    Hoping it all gets fixed soon and you’re back flying safely again (without the adrenalin and the training having to kick in).


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