Prestigious award given to crew of Airbus hit by missile as
they were leaving Baghdad
The Guild of Air Pilots
and Air Navigators, a British organization formed in 1929, promotes
air safety by presenting trophies and other awards for outstanding
performance in aviation by individuals or organisations. The Hugh
Gordon-Burge Memorial Award is given to the Captain, a member
of a flight deck crew, or a cabin attendant whose actions
contribute outstandingly by the saving of his/her aircraft or
passengers, or made a significant contribution to future air
The Guild has awarded
the 2003 Hugh Gordon-Burge Award to Captain Eric Gennotte, First
Officer Steeve Michielsen and Flight Engineer Mario Rofail. All
three work for DHL. The text of the award is transcribed here,
On 22nd November 2003, a DHL A300 B4 had been airborne from
Baghdad Airport for just over 3 minutes when the calm in the
cockpit was shattered by the sound of a loud bang. At about 8,000ft
an explosion was heard, followed by a cacophony of aural warnings
and visual displays showing a master warning on all flight
Unbeknown to the crew at that time, the aircraft had been
struck by a missile. The Flight Engineer, Mario Rofail, called that
the green and yellow hydraulic systems were lost, and as he started
preparing for the double hydraulic loss emergency checklist
procedure the Captain, Eric Gennotte, announced that he was having
difficulty controlling the aircraft. The First Officer, Steeve
Michielsen, tried unsuccessfully to assist the Captain to try and
regain control. The F/E then announced that the third hydraulic
system was lost as well.
At that point the crew
realised that there was little likelihood that the flight controls
would become functional again. There was no emergency checklist or
procedure to help them recover from this scenario. The situation
appeared hopeless and they were very much on their own.
The aircraft was without conventional pilot input. The stick
and rudder were ineffective. The flight control surfaces deprived
of their hydraulic muscle, were aligned with the airflow (hinge
The configuration was frozen:
- Slats and flaps could not be extended
- Spoilers were no longer controllable
- The position of the horizontal stabiliser could not be
adjusted. It was and continued to remain at the trim position for
215 Knots with climb thrust. (This setting was to pose particular
challenges for the crew as they attempted to stabilise the aircraft
for an approach descent profile)
A state of emergency was declared by Steeve to ATC. The crew
was told that the left engine was on fire. Mario advised his fellow
crew members that this was not possible since all engine
indications and fire warning systems were normal. However, with no
hydraulics and a fire visible from the left wing he knew the
aircraft was seriously damaged.
The tension was extreme on the flight deck. The ‘sense
of disbelief’ was felt by all the crew members.
Eric announced that they could control the pitch attitude by
adjusting thrust. Then began a learning period during which Eric,
Steeve and Mario, discovered how to control the pitch by modulating
thrust. Initially the thrust lever movements were large and
essentially symmetrical, and the aircraft thus continued a wide,
unsteady, 360 degree turn to the left.
The crew found that they could effectively stop the climb by
reducing thrust, which caused an initial airspeed decrease whilst
the nose dropped, but then the airspeed started to
They had to cope with this apparent paradox, due to the
change in pitching moment that could not be corrected by the jammed
horizontal stabiliser. The initial climb at 215 knots was changed
into a shallow controlled descent by reducing thrust, leading to an
unavoidable speed increase: Between 10,000 and 5,000 feet, IAS
varied between 270 and 290 knots.
At that time Eric ordered the extension of the landing gear
by the emergency gravity extension procedure, even though the speed
exceeded the maximum allowed for landing gear extension.
Mario successfully manually extended the gear. It made a lot
of noise since the gear doors remained open. The extended gear
provided additional drag, which helped stabilise the aircraft. This
was the only means to bring the speed back towards 210 knots. The
decision to extend the gear so early on proved to be a vital
With the aircraft controllable in pitch around level flight
and at a speed compatible with landing, Eric, supported by Steeve
and Mario, set about learning to control the direction of
Asymmetric handling of the throttles could control bank.
When the left engine alone was accelerated, the wings returned to
the horizontal, similarly when the right engine only was retarded
the same levelling effect could be achieved.
This was a very difficult procedure to perform, especially
when trying simultaneously to maintain horizontal flight and follow
- The response to thrust change appeared rapidly in pitch,
but roll response was delayed, since the roll resulted from the
sideslip induced by the asymmetric thrust, and there was a lag
before this took effect
- Since the left wing was damaged, the degree of asymmetric
thrust had to be found which was sufficient to compensate for the
asymmetry of lift, and it had to be maintained while the thrust was
adjusted to control the slope; easier said than done
Eric was effectively flying an experimental aircraft and was
continually gaining experience in manipulating the aircraft by the
throttles. Steeve provided close assistance making some corrective
inputs. There were a few rather alarming roll excursions beyond 30
degrees during that time. The aircraft remained very difficult to
control, however confidence was gained as the flight
Eventually, they could consider navigation back to the field
which had been lost from sight during the "training manoeuvres".
Steeve took on the navigation. He suggested that a long final of at
least 20 nautical miles was needed. The aircraft started a second
360 degree orbit, this time under more control. Eric started a
right turn to come back towards runway 33R, the longer of the two
runways at Baghdad.
The descent flight path then had to be established. That was
not simple either: the descent angle selected by the average value
of thrust was not easy to assess, since the whole process was
subject to oscillation. It was thus an average descent angle that
had to be judged, all the while maintaining the heading by
asymmetric adjustment of the engines.
To complicate matters further, the turbulence associated
with a wind of 20 knots from 290 degrees (left crosswind component
tended to excite natural oscillations, and in addition GPWS
warnings associated with the abnormal landing configuration sounded
repeatedly on short final.
Eric concentrated on the essential, keeping the aircraft
under control and reaching the airfield where the fire services
could fight the fire on the left wing.
Steeve assisted with efficient and timely call-outs,
announcing distances and altitudes. He stressed the point that the
power must not be completely reduced on touch-down; otherwise, the
symmetrical thrust would induce a turn to the left, particularly
undesirable just before ground contact.
Mario, who, in addition to a close watch on all the systems,
monitored the fuel remaining in the damaged left wing. It was vital
that both engines were kept running by ensuring a positive supply
of fuel and ignition. If one of the engines had lost power or
failed, the aircraft and crew would have certainly been lost. He
was therefore prepared to open the cross feed in case the left main
tank emptied, but not too soon because the fuel in the right wing
would then be lost through the leak on the left side. Furthermore,
he was able to relieve both pilots by taking over all radio
communication and made sure the aircraft was depressurised before
touchdown to guarantee a successful emergency evacuation.
Mario contacted ATC for an updated visual assessment to
request if the aircraft was still on fire. A military helicopter
replied that the left wing was on fire and that the flame was the
length of the aircraft (50 metres). In spite of the extreme stress
Mario had the courtesy to say "thank you" to the controller. He
also requested that both runways 33L and 33R be kept free and that
all emergency services be ready.
The tension again increased as the ground approached. At
250ft, the pitch attitude, still slowly oscillating, dropped
towards a negative value, which was most alarming so close to the
ground. It was restored nose-up by a large increase in the thrust
on both engines.
Towards 100ft, the aircraft was tracking to the runway
threshold, but with a heading ten degrees less than the orientation
of the runway. Eric made his final lateral control correction,
reducing the right engine only. The aircraft banked to the right
and the angle of convergence began to diminish.
Twenty-five long minutes after impact of the missile, the
A300 B4 finally landed on runway 33L, without further
- At a positive pitch attitude
- With a moderate sink rate (less than 10ft/sec, far below
the tolerances for the landing gear)
- At an angle of bank of ten degrees to the right, and
heading diverging about eight degrees to the left of the runway
Without any direct means of directional control, however,
the aircraft rapidly went off the side of the runway. The throttles
were retarded and selected to full reverse by Mario. The sandy
ground provided a significant extra braking force and the aircraft,
in spite of the high speed at touchdown, stopped after a landing
run of the order of one kilometre, raising an impressive cloud of
sand behind it.
After engine shutdown the crew evacuated the aircraft from
the right, inches away from a coil of razor wire. They ran a safe
distance from the aircraft as the wing was still on fire only to be
intercepted by some military emergency services personnel who
warned them that they were standing in a possible mine field. Their
incredible feat was almost spoiled after taking their first steps
back on the ground.
For their amazing and momentous actions in the saving of
their aircraft, the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award is presented
to each crewmember of the DHL flight.
Aero-News Networks would like add our congratulations to
Captain Gennotte, FO Michielsen and FE Rofail for winning
this prestigious award.