SQ passenger: I looked out window, the plane was in flames
SIA flight catches fire on Changi Airport runway after landing. Passengers want to be evacuated but are told to remain in their seats
Finding themselves in a Singapore Airlines plane that was on fire after landing at Changi Airport yesterday morning, some panicky passengers wanted to be evacuated.
A few of them even screamed and yelled at the cabin crew to open the doors of the Boeing 777-300ER.
But the crew repeatedly told everyone to remain calm and, on the captain's instruction, told them to stay in their seats after the 6.50am landing.
Minutes later, the fire, which had consumed the engine and part of the wing, was put out and everyone was taken to safety without any injuries.
Madam Lee Bee Yee disembarking from the plane. PHOTO: LEE BEE YEE
The drama had started hours earlier, when flight SQ368, which departed Changi Airport for Milan at 2.05am yesterday, was forced to turn back to Singapore after an engine oil warning message about 1hr and 45min into the flight.
The captain made several announcements to calm passengers down as the smell of fuel filled the aircraft.
He landed the plane safely at about 6.50am, after which the fire started and was put out by airport emergency services.
Passengers disembarking from the Boeing 777-300ER. PHOTO: LEE BEE YEE
A spokesman for Changi Airport Group said six fire trucks were deployed to battle the blaze.
The New Paper understands that some crew members were conflicted by the instructions not to evacuate but realised soon after that it was a good decision.
The crew were later told that the reason for not opening the door was that fuel burning on the tarmac could have caused injuries to evacuating passengers.
Two transport industry experts, Singapore Management University Associate Professor Terence Fan and Mr Gerry Soejatman, said they were surprised the passengers were not evacuated immediately with a slide when the plane landed.
But Mr Soejatman, an independent aviation expert based in Jakarta, said in hindsight, it was the "brave and correct" thing to do.
He said: "An emergency evacuation is extremely risky as passengers can get injured.
"As the wind was blowing fire and smoke away from the aircraft, it was better for them to wait inside."
The right wing of the plane caught fire after the plane landed. PHOTO: LEE BEE YEE
But the short wait for the passengers seemed like forever, especially for those on the right side of the plane who could see the full extent of the blaze.
The mood on the plane had changed swiftly upon landing.
Passengers had initially clapped with relief and joy, but fear took over after passengers on the right side of the plane, including Madam Lee Bee Yee, looked out the window.
Madam Lee, 44, told TNP in a phone interview: "After the plane touched down, the passengers cheered and clapped. Then, the engine on the right side of the plane erupted into flames."
When the passengers in front of her hurriedly took their bags from the overhead compartment, she started to get worried.
She said: "I was seated on the right side of the plane about three four seats behind the right wing so I was able to see everything."
"When the other passengers panicked, I kan cheong (Cantonese for anxious) and followed suit," she said.
The right wing of the plane after the fire was put out. PHOTO: LEE BEE YEE
But the cabin crew were quick to calm the passengers and told everyone to remain in their seats.
"Within two to three minutes, the airport emergency services arrived," Madam Lee said.
There was relief as jets of foam put out the fire outside her window.
An SIA spokesman said the passengers disembarked via the stairs and were transported to the main terminal by bus.
There were 222 passengers and 19 crew members, and no injuries were reported.
Madam Lee had not paid much attention during the flight even though she noticed the strong fuel smell after the captain's announcements.
She was unfazed and went back to sleep, only waking up when they arrived in Singapore.
Madam Lee said: "I figured that if it can fly back on its own, then there shouldn't be anything to worry about."
Madam Lee, who sells luxury bags, flies to Europe about once a month to buy them.
The mother of three children, aged 11, 12 and 15, decided to take a 2am flight today instead of a flight at 10am yesterday.
Madam Lee said she and her husband are two of three passengers from SQ368 who decided to delay their flight.
"I decided to go back home first and hug my children. I'm well aware that I could have died today," she added.
When she asked if she was worried about flying so soon after the incident, she replied with an emphatic "no".
"Anything can happen at any time, and you can go at any time," she replied.
"So you shouldn't worry too much."
The SIA spokesman said their pilots are trained in safety and emergency procedures and use onboard checklists to guide them.
He said: "They may also consult with our engineering and fleet management teams, through satellite communications, for further input."
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said the indicator showed that the right engine had shown oil loss.
In a Facebook post, NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing praised the "calm and collected response" of the cabin crew as well as the ground crew and control staff.
"All this would not have been possible without years of hard work and training behind the scene," he said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also expressed relief on his Facebook page that everyone on board was able to disembark safely.
CAAS: Fire put out in 5 minutes
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) gave this statement to the media last night:
Early this morning, SQ368, a Singapore Airlines B777 aircraft bound for Milan, chose to return to Singapore as the indicator for its right engine had shown oil loss.
Shortly after landing, a fire was observed to have occurred in the vicinity of the aircraft's right engine.
Changi's Airport Emergency Service, which was already on standby, responded promptly and the fire was extinguished within five minutes.
SATS also contributed to ensuring the safety of the passengers and flight crew.
No one was hurt during the incident.
The runway on which the aircraft landed was closed for about five hours for repairs and clean-up. Landings and take-offs continued on the other runway.
While some flights were impacted, all flights were able to take off within one hour of their scheduled departure times.
CAAS will be investigating to determine the causes of the incident.
The Ministry of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Bureau will also be conducting an independent investigation.
The New Paper asked aviation experts to comment on how yesterday's Singapore Airlines flight SQ368 emergency was handled.
What happens when a plane reports an engine oil warning message? Is it a serious problem?
There are many levels of warnings in an aircraft and it is not possible to know the severity of the issue unless they know the nature of the warning, said Mr Desmond Ng, lecturer for aviation management and services at Temasek Polytechnic.
Mr Ng said oil in a turbine engine has many roles - it is used to cool moving parts like the bearings, gears and accessory drives, while warm engine oil provides heating to prevent fuel icing.
As a result, there will be a warning when the condition of the oil does not stay within certain parameters of pressure, quantity and temperature.
Why didn't a pre-flight check reveal the fault in the engine?
Mr Gerry Soejatman, an independent aviation expert based in Jakarta, said the oil system would not have been pressurised before the flight.
"It's pressurised when the engine is running. If they had seen a leak without the oil system pressurised, it would mean a bad oil leak and they simply would not fly until it's fixed."
Flightradar.com, a website which tracks commercial flights, showed that SQ368 was north of Phuket when it turned back. Why did they decide to return to Singapore instead of a closer airport?
Mr Ng said it is possible the plane was operating normally and they were turning back as a precautionary measure.
"Singapore Changi Airport has some of the best facilities for aircraft repair, maintenance, as well as emergency services and is able to handle and auxiliary services for a large number of passengers. It is also the home base of Singapore Airlines," he said.
Mr Soejatman agreed and added: "They had several airports they could go to should the situation suddenly develop into an emergency. If they diverted to Phuket, the passengers would have been basically stranded until they send a replacement aircraft and there would be additional paperwork too."
Why did the engine catch fire after the plane landed?
"When a plane lands, a huge amount of heat is generated once the plane tyres hit the runway. The pilot could have also applied the brakes, which would result in sparks," said Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Terence Fan, who specialises in transport.
With the presence of an oil leak, this could easily have resulted in a fire, he added.