A Virgin Australia flight
attendant was thrown onto the galley floor of a Boeing 737 passenger jet after the plane’s pilots attempted to stop it from flying too fast on approach to Adelaide Airport last year.
The flight attendant suffered a knee injury and another cabin crew member also lost her footing in the rear galley of the plane, which was carrying 83 passengers from Sydney, during the mid-air incident on May 9.
Air-safety investigators have detailed how the plane’s pilots had decided to tell the cabin crew to prepare for landing earlier than usual to reduce the risk of injury from turbulence as they prepared to encounter strong westerly winds near Adelaide.
Shortly afterwards, the pilots changed their planned speed from 280 to 320 knots following a request from air-traffic control for a high-speed descent into Adelaide.
But as the plane passed below 10,000 feet, the air speed began to increase above 320 knots and at 8400 feet a “drag-required” message displayed on the cockpit computer.
In response, the first officer extended the plane’s speed brake. Despite this, the passenger jet’s air speed continued to increase.
To avoid a so-called overspeed, the first officer pulled back forcibly on the control column to raise the nose of the plane, overriding the autopilot and activating the control-wheel steering.
Seconds later, the pilot abruptly released the back pressure on the control column.
At about the same time, the flight attendants had almost finished securing the cabin and were about to take their seats.
They then felt what seemed to be turbulence, and the two flight attendants in the rear galley lost their footing, one of them falling heavily on the floor.
A final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, released today, found the pilots had not adequately considered the greater risk of a so-called overspeed of the plane in changing wind conditions.
Air safety investigators also found that the flight crew were yet to complete the airline’s training that focused on managing incidents in which planes fly too fast.
“This increased the risk that the guidance provided through other sources would not be followed correctly,” the report said.
The investigators noted that the plane’s cabin crew had fortunately begun preparing for landing early than usual, which was likely to have prevented more serious injury.