Passengers aboard a jet that yesterday made an emergency landing after a catastrophic engine failure were "very lucky" that a fire that started in the engine did not spread and cause the plane to crash, according to an aircraft engineer who saw the damaged plane.
Just three minutes after the four-engine British Aerospace Avro RJ100 took off from Perth Airport's runway 21, the plane's number two engine, close to the cabin, exploded in flames, creating a shower of sparks as the engine's compressor section apparently failed.
The 92 fly-in, fly-out workers en route to Barrow Island on the Cobham flight described panicked scenes as they heard a loud bang, followed by what looked like "fireworks" shooting out of the engine.
The pilots acted swiftly and calmly to extinguish the fire before turning the plane around and landing safely at the airport at 10.55am, where fire and emergency services workers were on hand.
The aircraft engineer who saw the damaged plane told The West Australian the failure was "catastrophic".
"Passengers were very lucky the fuel tank was not punctured as it could have ended in a similar fate to the Paris Concorde crash," the engineer, who did not want to be named, said. "It appears as if the compressor failure has caused damage to fuel nozzles and high -pressure turbine."
The engineer said the failure could have punctured the fuselage or wing, potentially rupturing fuel tanks.
Concorde flight AF4590 crashed on July 25, 2000, after a piece of metal, believed to have fallen off a Continental Airlines DC10 on to the runway of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, set off a chain of events that resulted in the death of 113 people.
Cobham, the country's biggest FIFO contractor, is investigating the incident and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will conduct its own probe.
Jason Grimmett was seated beside the engine when he heard a loud noise.
"There was something that came out of the engine house, spewing fuel out and it ignited," he said. "There was a bit of panic but the pilot was very quick to shut everything down."
Fellow passenger Anthony Galati praised the handling of the incident. "We told the cabin crew and they turned the plane around," he said.
"It was well handled. The flight attendants were just saying, 'Calm down, relax'. I was terrified pretty much."
Video footage captured on a mobile phone showed a shower of sparks flying out of the engine for almost a minute.
"It was like fireworks," one passenger said. "Quite a few people were shaken up about it."
The Chevron workers had been forced off another plane earlier in the day because of an alleged fault. In an emergency call to air traffic control, the pilot could be heard saying: "Pan, Pan Jetex 1994 (call sign) we have an engine fire. Returning on right base."
ATC immediately slowed the plane's heading for Perth, told others to abort landings and put them in holding patterns.
The pilot of Jetex1994 turned the plane north over Welshpool and flew over Rivervale and Bayswater before turning right again at Malaga.
At 10.49am the pilot reported that the fire was out and it would be a normal landing.