A report shared online by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) this week has lifted the lid on a distressing flight experience on-board a FlySafair plane back in August 2019. The domestic carrier was forced into a “Mayday” call, such was the severity of the situation, shortly after taking off from Cape Town International Airport.
FlySafair flight enters “Mayday” territory
About 15 minutes after beginning its journey to King Shaka Airport in Durban, flight FA 461 was plunged into chaos when two loud thuds were heard from the back of the aircraft. The pilots then consulted their instruments, and were shocked to find their pressurisation gauge was now “uncontrollable”.
It’s at this point that one of the pilots can be heard saying: “Mayday Mayday …..Mayday, FlySafair 461, emergency descend”. The call for an emergency landing saw the passenger plane turn back on itself over Robertson, Western Cape and a rapid descent began to equalise the pressure, dropping at 60 feet per second.
“Rapid decompression” spooks airline staff, passengers in Cape Town
The tense battle to stabalise the aircraft went on for another six minutes, as the pilots brought all 134 passengers on-board down from a cruising altitude and back onto the ground at Cape Town, where an emergency landing protocol was activated. The plane was grounded successfully, with no casualties to report.
In SACAA’s report – released just a day after an SAA flight had to make an emergency landing due to “an unusual odour” – it was confirmed that a pressure seal on one of the cargo doors had failed, allowing rapid decompression to occur at 30 000ft. Here’s how these terrifying events played out:
“At approximately 18:24, the FlySafair aircraft was climbing through FL310 and about 33 seconds later at 18:25, the crew declared an emergency by broadcasting a Mayday. The investigation revealed that the rapid decompression was a result of the failure of the lower part of the AFT cargo door pressure seal.”
“This caused the pressurised air from the cabin area to leak into the atmosphere to an extent that the aircraft pressurisation system could not keep up with the supply to maintain a safe and comfortable environment for the pilots, passengers and the crew members. A Cabin Altitude Warning System activated automatically.”
FlySafair: What caused the damage?
SACAA have blamed baggage handlers for “manhandling” the door after loading all suitcases onto the FlySafair flight. According to the aviaition authority, an investigator noted – during an inspection of the aircraft – that to get hold of the door handle, a person needs to be relatively tall.
It’s theorised that a shorter member of staff may have been jumping to grasp the door, putting pressure on the hatch as they grabbed it by the bottom. In this case, it would seem size really does matter.