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Mon, Apr 13, 2009

Emirates A340 Takeoff Rated 'A Near Disaster'

Heavily Loaded Airliner Barely Got Off The Ground

An Emirates Airlines flight departing Melbourne's International Airport for Dubai last month came close to tragedy, authorities revealed Saturday. Investigators upgraded the classification of what happened from an "incident" to an "accident."

Preliminary investigation details published by The Melbourne Herald Sun said that on March 20, a heavily laden Airbus A340-500 (type shown above) operating as Emirates Flight EK407 barely made it off the ground. The plane carried a load of 225 passengers and about 350,000 pounds of jet fuel.

The A340 pilots apparently used all 11,500 feet of the runway before rotating at an estimated 175 mph. The plane's tail scraped the runway due to excessive upward pitch, producing a shower of sparks and smoke in the cabin.

The plane staggered into the air, wiping out a 70 cm tall (2 foot, 3.5 inch) strobe light that was 170 meters (557 feet) off the end of the runway, and barely cleared a 2.5 meter (8 foot) perimeter fence half a kilometer (1640 feet) from the runway's end.

The report added the airliner took out an antenna and narrowly missed a small building before eventually gaining more altitude. It then flew over Port Phillip Bay and dumped some of its fuel load, before returning to land at the airport over a half hour later.

Neville Blyth, a senior transportation safety investigator with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said the aircraft suffered heavy damage in the accident. "It can't be flown again without repairs," he said. The ATSB has released the plane to Emirates, but it remains in a cargo hold at Melbourne Airport.

Blythe added, "It's a serious investigation. There are a fair bit of resources being put into this one." ATSB investigators have already examined the aircraft's flight data recorders and interviewed the crew. The pilots have since resigned.

Australian aviation expert Dick Smith said, "It's the closest thing to a major aviation accident in Australia for years. The people (passengers) are incredibly lucky, it was an overrun where the plane didn't get airborne." Despite the close call, no injuries were reported.

An Emirates spokesman said, "The report from the ATSB has not yet been finalized, and as such it would be inappropriate for Emirates to make any comment at this point in time."

FMI: www.emirates.com, www.atsb.gov.au

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