Sunday, July 27, 2008

Qantas orders planes inspected after blast

MANILA, Philippines - Qantas Airways rushed to inspect oxygen cylinders on its entire fleet Monday as investigators focused on a missing tank as the suspected cause of a mid-air blast that tore a hole in a jumbo jet carrying more than 350 people, forcing an emergency landing in the Philippines.

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the Sydney-based airline was ordered to quickly inspect every oxygen bottle aboard its 30 Boeing 747s.

Civil authority spokesman Peter Gibson confirmed an oxygen cylinder was missing from the Boeing 747-400 that landed in Manila on Friday after a section of its metal skin was ripped away at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) over the South China Sea. There were no injuries.

"If it turns out that is the cause of the accident, the cause of the hole in the side of the aircraft, obviously that will be a key part of the investigation working out why a bottle would suddenly give way," Gibson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday.

"As far as we can determine this has never happened before on a passenger aircraft," he said, adding the possibility was "very unusual and obviously understanding why that happened will be absolutely critical to making sure it can't occur again."

He said a possible cause of the blast could include metal fatigue in the cylinder, a failure of the regulator valve, something hitting it and puncturing it, or the cylinder becoming too hot.

No evidence of foul-play
A senior investigator from the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau, Neville Blyth, told reporters Sunday the incident was treated as a safety investigation.

"At this stage, there is no evidence whatsoever that this is a security-related event," he said. An official of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration also said initial reports indicated no link to terrorism.