Sub­mit Your Jokes and Sto­ries

Field Ed­i­tor Howard Bull re­calls the day an air­liner came dan­ger­ously close to crash­ing into the sea

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents -

IT WAS A NOR­MAL WORK­ING DAY in April 1964 at my of­fice in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, where I was work­ing as a pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager for the air­line Ansett-ANA, un­til I re­ceived an ur­gent phone call from the air­line’s Move­ment Con­trol unit.

“The Dou­glas DC-6B air­liner that de­parted this morn­ing from Essendon Air­port may ditch in Port Phillip Bay,” said the caller. “It’s try­ing to lose an en­gine!”

My im­me­di­ate re­sponse was “So what?” I knew an air­liner could fly safely on three of its four en­gines. When an en­gine has a prob­lem, pi­lots can shut it down and feather the pro­pel­ler to deal with wind re­sis­tance.

“Ac­tu­ally, the pi­lots are try­ing to have the en­gine drop into Port Phillip Bay!” the caller added. This was go­ing to be a big news story so I rushed to the nearby air­port.

When I ar­rived, I was told that another air­craft,

Howard Bull lives in Morn­ing­ton, Vic­to­ria, with his wife. He is an au­thor and free­lance jour­nal­ist and spe­cialises in cri­sis man­age­ment. He also col­lects for­mer army ve­hi­cles.

pi­loted by Cap­tain Pe­ter Gibbes, the op­er­a­tions man­ager, was fly­ing along­side the trou­bled air­liner. On board were ob­servers to check the dam­age and li­aise by ra­dio with the DC-6B’s pi­lot, Cap­tain Keith Hants.

It was not a pleas­ant sight. One of the three blades on a pro­pel­ler had bro­ken free just af­ter take-off. The re­sul­tant torque had caused the 2500-horse power en­gine, weigh­ing more than a tonne, to vi­brate and

Do you have a tale to tell? We’ll pay cash for any orig­i­nal and un­pub­lished story we print. See page 5 for de­tails on how to con­trib­ute.

then droop. It ob­scured one of the air­liner’s un­der­car­riage legs, which could cre­ate a dis­as­ter if the air­liner at­tempted a nor­mal land­ing.

Just four weak­ened bolts held the en­gine in place. Fuel was dumped to re­duce the weight and an RAAF crash boat de­parted from Point Cook.

Cap­tain Hants and First Of­fi­cer Bob Gor­don placed their feet on the in­stru­ment panel, made the air­liner dive, and then pulled back on their con­trol col­umns to make it rise. This tech­nique, called ‘surf­ing,’ was used three times to dis­lodge the en­gine. But there was a penalty. Each time the

air­liner lost valu­able height that could not be re­gained. The air­liner could only make one last at­tempt. It worked and the en­gine dropped into Port Phillip Bay. Af­ter a tense 94 min­utes in the air, the air­liner made a per­fect land­ing back at Essendon Air­port.

There was also drama in the air­liner’s cabin. The pas­sen­gers had been through tur­moil. Those sit­ting near the wings were alarmed when oil from rup­tured lines sprayed along the fuse­lage and win­dows. Two air hostesses had been thrown around as they tried to demon­strate the ditch­ing pro­ce­dure to pas­sen­gers. One pas­sen­ger be­gan writ­ing his will, while a sec­ond re­quested that his meal be served and that the bar be opened.

Pub­lic re­la­tions ac­tiv­ity hit top gear. Pas­sen­gers were wel­comed into the air­port and com­pli­men­tary drinks ar­ranged in the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal.

I met with the two pi­lots and the flight en­gi­neer, es­tab­lished the facts and helped them pre­pare for the range of ques­tions they would be asked by the me­dia. Pre­vi­ously I had ob­tained from the air­line the back­grounds of the crew, as well as the main­te­nance and over­haul his­tory of the air­liner.

The trio gave ex­cel­lent in­ter­views.

There was also drama in the air­liner’s cabin. The pas­sen­gers had been through tur­moil

A few hours later the pas­sen­gers de­parted in a re­place­ment air­liner, with one ex­cep­tion, a se­nior Mel­bourne me­dia ex­ec­u­tive who chose to re­main in the bar.

The ex­pla­na­tion was cir­cu­lated to the me­dia and re­sul­tant cov­er­age was ac­cu­rate and favourable.

Later, a lo­cal res­i­dent phoned the air­line to com­plain that en­gine oil had soiled the wash­ing in his back­yard and he de­manded com­pen­sa­tion. An Ansett-ANA en­gi­neer in­spected the scene and found that the well-worn linen showed traces of en­gine oil from the man’s own old Holden car. The owner was told that if he com­plained fur­ther, the next vis­i­tors could be po­lice of­fi­cers.

Af­ter the ten­sion and ex­cite­ment had died down, I re­turned to my of­fice to re­sume the work I had aban­doned. What had I been do­ing when I was in­ter­rupted? Ah, yes. Pre­par­ing ma­te­rial on the in­tro­duc­tion of jet air­lin­ers – which for­tu­nately do not have pro­pel­lers!

Cap­tain Keith Hants was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valu­able Ser­vice in the Air in recog­ni­tion of his fly­ing abil­i­ties un­der ex­treme con­di­tions. If not for his skill, more than 60 peo­ple could have lost their lives that day.

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