Regional Express passenger recalls moment propeller disappeared before her eyes

A passenger on a Regional Express plane forced to make an emergency landing after a propeller fell off in mid-air has recalled how she saw what she thought was a bird disappear into the distance after hitting the aircraft.

“I just happened to be glancing out the window when a large thing hit the plane,” Alyce Fisher said. “At first I thought it was a very large bird which hit the wing and was tumbling off in the distance. But it wasn’t a bird – it was the propeller coming off.”

Ms Fisher, 30, from Albury, said theseparation of the propeller from the engine during flight ZL-768happened in a split second.

It was not until the 34-seat aircraft landed at Sydney Airport and was surrounded by emergency services that the 16 passengers on board began to realise the seriousness of the situation.

“We were quite lucky that it flew off in the direction that it did,” she said.

Earlier, about two-thirds of the way into their journey from Albury to Sydney, passengers felt an intense vibration but, after what Ms Fisher thought at the time was a bird strike, it stopped and the flight was smooth.

Moments after the propeller fell off about 19 kilometres from Sydney Airport, one of the pilots told passengers over the PA system that the plane was down to one engine.

Passenger Alyce Fisher says the events were surreal. Photo: Ben Rushton

“He never said that there would be an emergency landing,” Ms Fisher told Fairfax Media on Saturday. “There was no panic. Coming into Sydney there was a bit of turbulence, which was to be expected.”

After the propeller on the right-hand engine broke away, the pilots declared a PAN, which is one step down from a full-scale mayday. “The prop has just fallen off the aircraft and standby for further instructions,” one of the pilots told air-traffic control.

“We’ve just had uncommanded engine operations and then our propeller has just sheared off. We’ve lost the propeller. We’ve got normal controls; still able to fly; would require one-six right [runway].”

After the Saab 340 landed about 25 minutes later, Ms Fisher said one of the pilots emerged from the cockpit and gazed out a cabin window. “Yeah, it’s really gone,” he said, and moments later passengers responded by cheering and clapping.

“He did an amazing job,” she said, heaping praise on the plane’s crew and Regional Express for the way it handled passengers afterwards.

Ms Fisher said it was a shock to finally see, when the plane landed, where the propeller had separated from the engine. However, the bigger shock for passengers was the large number of emergency services staff who met the plane after it had landed.

“There was no panic on the plane at all. It was not until the plane stopped that we could see where the propeller fell off,” said Ms Fisher, who recently moved to Albury from London. “It really is surreal.”

The turboprop aircraft is certified to land with one engine. Pilots also spend a considerable amount of their training on honing their skills at flying with a single engine.

An aviation investigator, who declined to be named, said it was lucky that the propeller did not hit the fuselage, wing or tail, while a large object falling from 6000 feet posed a huge risk to people in the populated area below.

“It is a very, very rare occurrence to lose the whole lot. It is not a little event – I almost fell off my chair when I heard the news,” he said.

“It is more than likely going to be a one-off maintenance matter or some oddball fatigue crack. It is a [type of] aircraft that is tried and tested and has been operating for a long time.

Swedish manufacturer Saab and plane engine builder General Electric have advised Regional Express to conduct a visual inspection of its fleet of Saab 340 aircraft.

Investigators are still to determine the exact location of the plane when the propeller sheared off but early indications were that it was likely to have occurred above Camden in south-west Sydney.

Despite the drama, Ms Fisher has no fear of hopping on a plane bound for home in Albury on Monday after a weekend of study at the n Catholic University in Sydney.

“I feel lucky every day to be alive. I will continue to live my life and will jump on a plane on Monday to go home,” she said.

The n Transport Safety Bureau has advised anyone who finds the propeller to leave it where it is, and contact its investigators or the police.