Aviation

ATSB report sparks overhaul in Qantas’ safety instructions following passenger injuries

Australia’s transport safety authority has raised concerns over the clarity of Qantas’ safety instructions after six passengers were injured evacuating a plane via an escape slide.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released details of its investigation into the evacuation of a Qantas A330 at Syndey Airport on 15 December 2019, highlighting the need for clear communication with passengers about safety procedures.

A Perth-bound flight carrying 222 passengers and 10 Qantas employees was forced to return to Sydney shortly after take-off due to a hydraulic leak.

As the aircraft arrived back at the terminal under tow, a haze began to form in the cabin and flight deck, and passengers and crew experienced physical symptoms including irritation to the eyes and throat.

The captain commanded an evacuation and 93 passengers used one of the three deployed escape slides.

“A number of passengers used the escape slides in a manner that increased the risk of injury, and unfortunately six passengers were injured,” ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

One passenger who used an escape slide sustained serious injuries including tendon ruptures in both knees, while others sustained minor injuries including knee sprains, friction burns, and elbow cuts and abrasions.

“The ATSB found limitations and inconsistencies in how Qantas’s safety video and briefing card described emergency slide use and what to do with cabin baggage in an emergency,” Mitchell said.

“For example, the pre-flight video showed a passenger sitting down and placing their bag next to them, just prior to sliding.

“The management of passengers in an emergency situation is the last line of defence to avoid injuries and fatalities, so it is important passengers are well informed through the provision of sufficient and accurate communication about what they may be required to do.”

According to the report, CCTV and other video showed at least 40 passengers exiting via aerobridges with carry-on luggage and some of these retrieved their baggage after the evacuation command, which likely slowed the evacuation process.

“Some passengers also brought cabin baggage to the top of the emergency slides, and while some complied with cabin crew and left them behind, others were shown on CCTV with their luggage in-hand, after using a slide,” Mitchell continued

“Passengers should always leave their belongings behind during an evacuation.”

The ATSB found primary commands practised by Qantas cabin crew to instruct passengers in an evacuation did not include phrases such as ‘leave everything behind’ and ‘jump and slide’.

Since the incident, Qantas has amended its passenger safety briefing video and is looking to incorporate ‘leave everything behind’ into its primary evacuation commands.

The airline has also introduced periodic training that requires cabin crew members to physically demonstrate the procedures for an evacuation at a terminal.

“Communication between the cabin crew and flight crew is essential in abnormal situations, and it is important for information to be relayed as soon as it becomes available,” Mitchell said.

The ATSB report also found Qantas did not have a procedure for ‘rapid disembarkation’, which would enable faster than usual deplaning, but at a slower and more controlled pace than an emergency evacuation.

“Accidents around the world continue to show there is a significant risk of injury to passengers when escape slides are used,” Mitchell said.

“This risk is acceptable in a life-threatening situation where the alternative may be catastrophic, but in cases such as a fumes event – particularly if the aerobridge is already attached – a rapid disembarkation procedure may be preferable.”

Qantas advised in May 2022 it was undertaking a review of its current non-routine disembarkation procedure, and looking to incorporate a relevant procedural framework.

“In this case, given the information available and the physical symptoms being experienced by crew and passengers, the captain’s decision to evacuate was a sound one,” Mitchell concluded.


Image: Qantas safety video (Youtube/Qantas)



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