17 May 2023

ATSB expands investigation into plane forced to terminate at Canberra Airport after propeller strap punctured cabin

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Link Airways plane at Canberra Airport

A Link Airways aircraft (similar to the one pictured) was forced to return to Canberra Airport on 10 November after a propeller strap penetrated the fuselage. Photo: Twitter.

The investigation into a November 2022 incident involving a small passenger plane travelling from Canberra to Sydney has been upgraded from ‘short’ to ‘defined’ by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

On 10 November, the Link Airways Saab 340B aircraft, operating on behalf of Virgin Australia, was forced to return to Canberra Airport after a ratchet strap used to secure the left propeller blade overnight had not been removed.

The engine was started with the propeller strap attached and the strap flew loose from the blade in the final stages of take-off and punctured the fuselage, appearing inside the cabin. The aircraft was in the air for about 10 minutes, passing Queanbeyan and Jerabomberra before making an emergency landing at Canberra Airport, where emergency services were waiting.

There were 29 passengers on board the 8:05 am flight, along with three crew members. All passengers alighted the aircraft safely, according to Virgin Australia, though an AFP spokesperson said at the time that three people were being assessed for minor injuries.

damaged aircraft

One of the propeller strap ends punctured the aircraft, appearing inside the cabin. Photo: Supplied.

ATSB investigators from its Canberra office were deployed to Canberra Airport on the day of the incident to begin inspecting the aircraft and interviewing crew and passengers.

So far, the ATSB says it has interviewed flight crew, ground crew and cabin crew; examined CCTV video of the incident and preparation of other flights; analysed flight recorder data; inspected the strap and other components involved in the incident; and examined ground procedures.

“In the course of the investigation, the ATSB has identified several risk controls with limitations that contributed to the occurrence. Examination of these factors represents a significant increase in the scope of this investigation and it has been upgraded from Short to Defined as a result,” the ATSB said in an update.

According to the ATSB, a defined investigation is required for “transport safety accidents and incidents of a more complex nature” than short investigations. They “seek to identify systematic safety issues that reveal underlying causes of an occurrence” and “involve several ATSB resources” and may involve both office-based and in-the-field investigation.

“Defined investigation reports include an expanded analysis to support the broader set of findings within the report and may include safety factors not relating directly to the occurrence,” the ATSB said, adding they may “also identify safety issues (safety factors with an ongoing risk) relating to ineffective or missing risk controls”.

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The ATSB said that the continuing investigation of the incident will involve further analysis of ground handling procedures, ground staff training, fleet-wide serviceability of propeller blade straps, and flight crew procedures.

It is expected the final report, including further recommendations, will be released in the last quarter of 2023.

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