Airline, Manufacturers Still Paying For 2008 Incident

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Almost 150 passengers have been paid up to $400,000 each for their experience aboard QF72, a Qantas Airbus A330 that suffered altitude deviations during a 2008 flight, and more lawsuits are in the works. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found in a final report released last week that the faulty air data information resulted in a dive that included a 150-foot drop in two seconds. Sixty passengers, plus standing crew, were thrown into the ceiling. Some suffered lacerations and bone injuries. One suffered a brain injury. Two minutes later, the aircraft dropped again. Sixteen passengers now appear prepared to launch a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Airbus and Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the plane's Air Data Inertial Reference Unit.

The flight was carrying 303 passengers and 12 crew from Singapore to Perth in 2008 when air data units began feeding the aircraft's flight control computers inaccurate air data. Airbus has redesigned the relevant software to prevent a similar event, but an attorney who represents 160 of the flight's passengers does not believe the issue has been resolved. The ATSB found that through 128 million hours of operation, air data corruption has been noted three times. Qantas has issued a statement that the incident was a unique event resulting from faulty software. According to Qantas, its pilots responded swiftly and appropriately and no blame should be attributed to the airline. After the altitude deviations, the aircraft landed safety, but at least one passenger -- a pilot -- wonders what the result may have been if the aircraft had suffered another incident at a lower altitude. Malcolm Yeo told TheWest.com.au, "Had I known that it wasn't turbulence and that even the pilots had no idea what had happened I would have been as terrified as everyone else." He added, "If the plane unexpectedly plunged again, at a lower altitude, we would have all been dead."

The ATSB's full report and animation is available here.