Pictured: First look at cracks on tail of Virgin plane which flew THIRTEEN TIMES before engineers noticed any damage

  • Images have been released of the cracks on the tail of the plane
  • A Virgin Australia plane flew 13 times with structural damage
  • The aircraft suffered the damage after turbulence as it approached Sydney
  • It was inspected but returned to the air the next day
  • A bird strike five days later helped identify the damage
  • Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating

By Leesa Smith

Images released have revealed the extent of the damage to the tail of a Virgin plane that flew 13 times after a turbulence event on approach to Sydney.

The frightening pictures show gaping cracks along the lower left and lower right tailplane of the 68 passenger ATR72 turbo-prop, which was removed from service while an inspection was carried out but put back in the air the next day.

An initial investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found damage 'consistent with an overstress condition' was likely to have occurred on February 20.

The Virgin plane with cracks under the tail has flown 13 times after experiencing turbulence on approach to Sydney

The Virgin plane with cracks under the tail has flown 13 times after experiencing turbulence on approach to Sydney

The plane was back in the air the next day after an inspection was carried out

The plane was back in the air the next day after an inspection was carried out

It was not until five days later, following a suspected bird strike as the plane descended into Albury, that the damage linked to the February 20 event was discovered.

In the five-day period, the plane had already flown 13 more times.

According to the ATSB report, it was about 4.40pm on February 20 when, as the aircraft made its approach to Sydney at an altitude of 8500 feet, that 'the crew noticed the air speed going up quickly and the speed trend excessively high'.

 

The first officer reduced engine power and used touch-control steering to temporarily disconnect the autopilot before manually raising the nose to control the speed.

But the captain was unsure if the first officer's control inputs were sufficient to avoid an 'overspeed' and put one of his hands on the controls and disconnected the autopilot to raise the nose further.

The damage was not found until five days later, following a suspected bird strike as the plane descended into Albury

The damage was not found until five days later, following a suspected bird strike as the plane descended into Albury

'The captain believed he indicated his intention to take over control, and while the first officer could not recall it being verbalised, he was aware of the captain's actions,' the report says.

'The first officer recalled that he took his hands off the controls, releasing touch-control steering in the process. Shortly after, concerned about a high nose-up attitude, the first officer put his hands back on the controls. To both crew members, what happened next was unexpected and unclear.'

'Suddenly, the crew felt high positive (G-force), the controls felt different and spongy, and cockpit warnings activated.'

'At some point, the cabin crew called the cockpit and advised that the senior cabin crew member had injured her leg and that it might be broken.'

The inspection on February 25 'found broken carbon plies, cracked joint sealant, and deformation in and around the area where the horizontal stabiliser attaches to the vertical stabiliser'.

'There was also some minor damage to the rudder,' the report says.

The ATSB says its initial examination showed that 'differential force on the control column that resulted from the captain and first officer applying an opposing force exceeded the differential force required to generate a pitch disconnect'.

'Each pilot was then controlling the elevator on their side of the aircraft in opposite directions for a brief period before the first officer released his control column.'

The ATSB investigation is ongoing.

In a brief statement, Virgin Australia said the safety of guests, crew and aircraft was its No.1 priority.

'While this is an isolated issue, we are working with the ATSB, the aircraft manufacturer and our maintenance provider to identify what has occurred,' the airline said.

The comments below have not been moderated.

It is a well known fact that Airlines were requested to re-train their pilots over the last few years with regard to turbulance and the rapid use of tail controls on all aircraft especially if more than one has control of the plane at the same time and also the problems with nose-up configuration when in rough weather,,,Virgin you should now make sure that your pilots are up to date in their training before someone looses a tail as has happened in the past...

0
0
Click to rate

Is this the start of risk decision based on the guys earlier "victory" in the week over compensation? Cheaper to keep it flying than ground fix and pay compensation. We'll done sir for wi pinning that superb victory on behalf of the people. You pretentious idiot

1
3
Click to rate

Looking at how the metal has torn, this is why I am not keen on carbon fibre. The metal has remained partially intact, sufficient to keep using the elevator, whereas carbon fibre when it breaks is a sudden and complete failure. Slow and partial fatigue at least gives inspectors the chance to remedy, whereas sudden total failure is catastrophic - re loss of vertical stabiliser on Airbus 300, flight AA587, 2001.

0
2
Click to rate

This is so scary they are putting hundreds of lives at risk shocking

7
6
Click to rate

It held together for 13 more flights. You couldn't BUY advertising like that for the manufacturer. Shows how safe modern aircraft really are.

1
8
Click to rate

Always wondered what would happen if both steering sticks were used at the same time but in opposite directions!!?

3
8
Click to rate

The last photo is the tail of a Boeing 737. The aircraft in question is an ATR-72-600. Dear journalist, get it right or say nothing please. In any case, all you have done here is plagiarise the ATSB report. The only work that is yours is inaccurate! "Media Watch.....?"

4
17
Click to rate

The last photo is of the tail of a Boeing 737! This damage occurred to an ATR-72-600! Get it right DM!

3
12
Click to rate

I always thought they were just looking busy by shining their torches under the wing! good find boys and girls!

3
9
Click to rate

Do you really think crew have time to do a proper inspection in a half hour turnaround ?

8
29
Click to rate

looks like the planes not a virgin anymore. been well and truly ******

4
34
Click to rate

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now