Latest news and insights from Australia’s airports

Greg Hood: On emergency response and working with the ATSB

The aircraft is on fire, there are a number of vehicles around it and suddenly something resembling a missile streaks from the wreckage.

The sobering video clip aired at this year’s Australian Airport Association national conference by Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood showed the unexpected hazards first responders can face at serious crashes.

The 15 May 2018 accident involved an aircraft that had been conducting night circuits at Orange with a pilot and an instructor.

The aircraft had flared for landing but had bounced and the pilot elected to fly full power and perform a go-around.

The aircraft rolled left at a low height, hit the ground on the north-east side of the runway and burst into flames seconds later.

Emergency medical services personnel on the airport rushed to help and both occupants escaped.

But minutes after an ambulance had departed, the video shows the aircraft’s ballistic recovery parachute system blowing and arcing, rocket-like from the plane.

While Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) personnel tend to be first responders at major airports, Hood said many aerodromes were not graced with nearby rescue and fire-fighting facilities and the ARO could be first on scene.

He said he hoped the video clip would emphasise the need to seriously consider minimising injury and loss of life by understanding the type of aircraft involved in a crash.

“I think we can consider ourselves very fortunate in that particular case,’’ he said.

“There were a number of people in very close proximity to the burning wreckage that could have been injured or killed.’’

Hood said other potential hazards in fire hazards included aircraft tyres, oxygen bottles and burning carbon fibre components.

The Orange aircraft had been made of carbon fibre and Hood said research indicated it could be as dangerous as asbestos when it burns.

He said investigators had been concerned enough about this during a fatal accident that killed five people after a King Air crashed into a shopping centre at Essendon Airport this year, that they had isolated carbon fibre golf clubs found in the wreckage.

The ATSB boss also emphasised the importance of communicating as quickly as possible with the bureau after an accident.

This is required under legislation but Hood noted there were advantages for both investigators and airports.

Airports are not allowed to move wreckage until the ATSB has been notified, but Hood said the bureau was also required to minimise disruption to traffic.

Speaking after his presentation, he pointed to a Squirrel helicopter crash at Hobart Airport where he worked with chief executive Sarah Renner.

The ATSB does not have investigators in Tasmania so it had to fly someone down.

“So really from a practicality point of view, we directed the airport and the police to take as many photographs as they could and then to be as careful as the could in removing the wreckage from the runway so that operations could resume,’’ he said.

Hood said this would often be the case although there could be instances such as major accidents where the wreckage could not be moved.

“We would really need to know what happened,’’ he said.

“And that’s where we would dispatch a team early and try and get the FDR and CVR to have good look at what happened.”

The ATSB chief’s main advice to airports is: don’t touch anything until you’ve rung the ATSB.

“You’ll find that you get immediate advice,’’ he said.

“We’re on the phone, 24/7, 365 days of the year.’

Quick communication is also useful in helping the ATSB decide how many staff to send to an accident, what sort of experts should be involved and how to get there.

Hood said he initially found it difficult to find out what was happening in Essendon until he got through to the airport’s chief executive.

“From my perspective, having the CEO of the airport’s personal number so I could talk and ask him to tell me what he knew was very useful in terms of shaping our response,’’ he said.

With five dead in the crash and no Melbourne office — the bureau has since re-established a presence there — Hood and his team caught an RPT service to Tullamarine and got a police escort to the crash site.

“There are all those sorts of decisions that we need to take and early advice is very useful for us,” he said.

By Steve Creedy

About Steve Creedy

An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.


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