A flight attendant suffered a badly broken leg after the Captain of a Virgin Australia flight “abruptly” pulled back on the control column because the Boeing 737 aircraft was approaching its maximum permitted airspeed during an approach to landing into Adelaide, South Australia. The incident occurred back in 2017 but the Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) has only just released its final report.
The roughly hour-long Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne to Adelaide on September 13, 2017, had been smooth and without incident when air traffic control asked the flight crew to perform a high-speed descent. Despite the cabin crew having prepared the cabin for landing, the seat belt signs remained off to give the crew more time to complete their duties.
But as the airspeed started to increase to alarming rates the Captain “abruptly” pulled back on the control column with such force that the autopilot disengaged. Despite the First Officer being the pilot in control, the Captain yanked on the control column without first verbally taking control.
The Captain then made a second forceful input on the control column which caused “sudden changes to the aircraft’s pitch attitude and vertical acceleration.”
“Even though the autopilot was operating correctly, when the aircraft was approaching and exceeding the maximum operating speed, the captain’s perception was that the autopilot was not controlling the aircraft and that urgent intervention was necessary,” explained ATSB director of transport safety Dr Stuart Godley.
“However, the captain did not follow the normal procedure for taking over control of pilot flying duties, and the large pitch control inputs made by the captain were probably influenced by a perception of urgency,” he continued.
Two cabin crew members in the rear galley were eating a meal after securing the cabin for landing when they were thrown into the air. One of the crew fell to the floor and “felt their leg snap on landing”. The second crew member suffered minor facial injuries.
On arrival into Adelaide, however, the crew member who had sustained a badly broken leg was stuck on the floor of the galley for a further 90-minutes after a botched rescue. The crew member couldn’t sit in a wheelchair and a stretcher wouldn’t fit down the aisle. A ground operations manager, however, refused a request from fire and ambulance personnel to use a catering truck at the rear doors to rescue the injured crew member.
Instead, she had to be transferred onto a plastic sheet and dragged down the aisle of the aircraft before being transferred to a stretcher at the front of the aircraft.
Safety investigators concluded that the Captain’s decision to abruptly take control of the aircraft was driven in part by directives from Virgin Australia to avoid overspeed incidents. The airline has already implemented policy changes and changed internal training to avoid future incidents.
All 151 passengers were uninjured.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.