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Wasp nest on plane triggered Etihad in-flight emergency

March 6, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A wasps’ nest on a flight out of Brisbane triggered an emergency and forced an Etihad A330 carrying 175 people to abort its flight to Singapore, issue a “Mayday” distress call and return to Brisbane.

That’s the interim finding of the Australian Air Travel Safety Bureau (ATSB) which is investigating the incident.

The mysterious mid-air emergency was reported here by Global Travel Media when it happened last November: Etihad A330 makes emergency return to Brisbane

Mud dauber wasp

Mud dauber wasp

It now seems a wasps’ nest was responsible, though not inside the plane. The investigation, which has not yet concluded, indicates that a mud dauber wasp made its nest inside a “pitot tube” or “pitot probe”, a crucial external instrument for measuring airspeed during flight.

Pilots issued a Mayday distress call shortly after taking off from Brisbane airport for Singapore, telling air traffic controllers they were losing airspeed.

They radioed: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, we lost our airspeed,” and asked for emergency vehicles to meet the flight as it landed safely with a full fuel load 40 minutes later.

The ATSB is now blaming mud dauber wasps, which have previously caused two planes to crash in 1980 and 1996, killing 223 people.

The captain of the Etihad flight had already rejected one take-off after noticing an apparent airspeed instrument failure on his display. Maintenance crews made some adjustments and the plane then took off. The emergency then ensued.

The ATSB report states: “Examination showed that it [the tube] had been almost completely blocked by an insect nest, composed of sand and mud, that was consistent with the nest of a ‘mud dauber’ wasp.”

A similar aborted take-off happened at Brisbane in 2006. In September 1980, a Florida Commuter Airlines en route to the Bahamas crashed into the Atlantic killing all 34 passengers and crew. The culprits: mud dauber wasps. Once again, they had gone for the pitot tubes. Mud dauber wasps were also implicated in the 1996 crash of a Birgenair B757 flying from the Dominican Republic. It killed 189 people.

The ATSB’s interim report into the Etihad incident states: “At 1345 EST, during the second takeoff, the crew became aware of an airspeed discrepancy after V1 and the takeoff was continued. Once airborne, the crew declared a MAYDAY and decided to return to Brisbane where an overweight landing was carried out at 1439 EST.

Subsequently, the pitot probes (which measure airspeed information that is sent to the ADIRUs) were visually inspected. The inspection found that there was an internal obstruction of the captain’s probe, while the first officer’s and standby probes were clear. The captain’s probe was removed from the aircraft and sent to the probe manufacturer in the USA. Examination showed that it had been almost completely blocked by an insect nest, composed of sand and mud, that was consistent with the nest of a ‘mud-dauber’ wasp.

“A previous incident at Brisbane in 2006 also involved an obstructed pitot probe due to insect activity.”

Written by : Peter Needham

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