Last September, a video of a water salute going very wrong went viral – the plane involved was an Airbus A320 operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines and as it was approaching its gate at Dubai International Airport (DXB) it was met with a water salute to celebrate for Saudi Arabia National Day.
During that water salute, one of the jets of water hit the wing and side of the aircraft, resulting in the overwing emergency slide being deployed.
If you need a reminder of what happened, here’s a short video of the incident…
So what exactly went wrong? And how come the emergency slide activated just because a bit of water hit the plane?
Luckily, we now have the answer after the civil aviation authorities in the UAE released their report into the incident. And the good news is that everything on the aircraft worked as its meant to.
The Airbus A320 single-aisle aircraft is fitted with two overwing exits on either side of the plane. In an emergency, these exits are designed to be operated by passengers and are permanently armed, meaning that all a passenger has to do is pull a lever and the slide will activate.
When Airbus designed the A320 they also decided it would be a good idea to add a control handle on the outside of these doors – say, if a passenger inside the plane were struggling to open one of the exits, a second passenger who had already evacuated through the other door could then release the other door from outside.
To activate the exit from outside, you have to push in a panel on the control lever and then exert pressure to force the control handle up and outwards (it’s a lot easier than it sounds).
When the water spray hit the side of the aircraft, the force of the water not only managed to push the panel on the control handle inwards but it also forced the control lever up and out – the slide was instantly activated.
The flight crew were alerted to the problem by a signal in the flight deck and stopped the plane straight away. They initially thought a passenger had activated the exit from inside the plane and immediately powered down the engines fearing that an evacuation was about to start.
While it sure looked like the firefighter operating the water spray made a big mistake, the investigators actually concluded they weren’t to blame. In fact, the turret which sprays out the water was malfunctioning and not reacting properly to the control of the operator – which would definitely explain why the jet of water went so high initially.
Unfortunately, the passenger who was sat right next to the overwing exit was slightly injured when the door was ejected inside the aircraft and the plane was eventually allowed to leave Dubai without a slide on the left-hand wing so it could be replaced back at Saudia’s own maintenance facilities.
It also turns out that the flight crew didn’t even know a water salute was going to take place – Officials at Dubai International Airport (DXB) thought it would be an inventive way to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s National Day but in hindsight, keeping it as a surprise was probably a mistake.
So there you have it – that viral video has now been fully explained.