A Qantas jetliner made an emergency landing Thursday in Singapore with 459 people aboard, after one of its four engines shut down over western Indonesia and following witness reports of a blast that sent debris hurtling to the ground.
The plane landed safely with no injuries, and the airline denied there had been an explosion. However, a passenger from the flight told the Associated Press she heard two bangs and saw yellow flames from her window.
Rosemary Hegardy, 60, of Sydney, who was seated by a window on the massive jet, told the AP, “there was flames – yellow flames came out, and debris came off … You could see black things shooting through the smoke, like bits of debris.”
The emergency landing was one of the first major safety incidents for the new flagship of the Airbus fleet, the double-decker A380, the largest passenger jet in service.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the airline was suspending all flights of its six Airbus A380 jetliners after the incident. Joyce told a news conference in Sydney on Thursday the suspension would remain in place until Qantas was satisfied that it was safe for its A380s to fly.
“We will suspend those A380 services until we are completely confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met,” said Joyce.
CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports that Qantas has never had a fatal accident in its 90 year history. There has never been a fatality involving an Airbus A380, and the engine failure is the most serious incident involving that type of aircraft since the model went into service in October 2007.
No major American airlines fly Airbus A380s, but about 37 of the jets are in use by other major world carriers, including Lufthansa, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Emirates. British Airways has placed an order for some of the superjumbos, but has not yet take delivery.
Engines for the Airbus A380s used by Qantas are manufactured by the British firm Rolls-Royce and sold for about $16 million each. Airbus is a joint European company based in France, with heavy investment from the U.K. and other EU governments.
A Rolls-Royce spokesperson at the companies England headquarters told CBS News Thursday morning the engine-maker was, “working very closely with our customers and authorities to understand the issue.”
An Airbus spokesperson told CBS the manufacturer already had representatives in place in Singapore to inspect the damaged plane. Airbus said it was far to early to speculate on what might have caused the engine to fail. The spokesperson said it was the first time an A380 had experienced engine problems in-flight.
Qantas had no immediate comment on whether the engine troubles were related to eruptions of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi over the past 10 days. Given the timing of the malfunction, 15 minutes after takeoff from Singapore, and the airliner’s flight path, there appeared to be no connection.
A Qantas statement said the plane experienced an “engine issue” soon after taking off from Singapore for Sydney. It made a safe emergency landing in Singapore at 11:45 a.m. local time with 433 passengers and 26 crew on board, the statement said.
“Some media reports suggested the aircraft had crashed. These reports are incorrect. No Qantas aircraft has crashed,” it said.
Qantas spokeswoman Emma Kearns in Sydney, Australia, said there were no reports of injuries or an explosion on board. When asked if the engine trouble was related to ash hurled from Merapi, Kearns said she had no further details.
A series of powerful eruptions from Indonesia’s most volatile volcano, which was spewing massive clouds of gray ash 850 miles west of Batam, earlier prompted officials to close some air routes above the mountain.
“We have no way of knowing what at this point caused the problem,” said Tatang Kurniadi, the chief of The National Transportation Safety Committee, when asked if there were fears volcanic ash clogged the Qantas airliner’s engine.
Witnesses on the western Indonesian island of Batam, near Singapore, reported hearing a large blast and seeing pieces of debris – including panels painted white and red – falling onto houses and a nearby shopping mall.
Pictures of metal, some the size of a door, were shown on Indonesia’s MetroTV broadcaster, with people milling around.
“I heard a big explosion at around 9:15 a.m. and saw a commercial passenger plane flying low in the distance with smoke on one of its wings,” Rusdi, a local resident, told MetroTV.
“The debris started falling on my house.”
A British Airways flight suffered engine failure in 1982 after it had flown into a volcanic cloud in western Sumatra and was forced to make an emergency landing at Jakarta.
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