Revealed: How private jet caught in the wake of a superjumbo was flipped on its back, ROLLED and plunged 10,000ft before pilot pulled off miracle recovery
- The terrifying incident happened on January 7 this year
- Bombardier Challenger 604 jet flew about 1,000ft below an Emirates Airbus
- The near-disaster happened over the Arabian sea, near Oman
- Wake turbulence caused the plane to flip three times and plunge 10,000 feet
- The incident caused serious injuries on the small Challenger aircraft
A German private plane flipped upside down, rolled uncontrollably and then plunged 10,000ft after hitting wake turbulence caused by an Emirates superjumbo flying above it – but miraculously did not crash.
The near-disaster caused serious injuries on the small Challenger jet, which was carrying nine passengers and crew members, and once the pilots initially recovered the plane it was forced to make an emergency landing.
The terrifying incident happened on January 7, when a Bombardier Challenger 604 business jet en route over the Arabian sea, about 630 nautical miles southeast of Muscat, Oman, flew 1,000ft below an Emirates Airbus A380-800 flying from Dubai to Sydney in the opposite direction.
Though the accident occurred two-and-a-half months ago, information of the incident was only recently revealed in a report by the Aviation Herald.
On January 7, a Bombardier Challenger 604 business jet flipped upside down, rolled uncontrollably and then plunged 10,000ft after hitting wake turbulence caused by an Emirates superjumbo flying above it, but miraculously did not crash
The Bombardier Challenger 604 (a file photo of the same model plane above) business jet en route over the Arabian sea had flown 1,000ft below the Emirates Airbus A380-800 flying from Dubai to Sydney in the opposite direction, when it got caught in its wake turbulence
The wake turbulence caused by the superjumbo Airbus – the world’s largest passenger jet – was so powerful that about one minute after it passed by, the Challenger, which was flying at 34,000 feet, was sent into an uncontrolled roll that flipped the aircraft between three and five times.
Wake turbulence is formed behind an aircraft as it flies through the air, much like a boat creates a wake in the water.
It is exacerbated by a pair of vortices – whirling masses of air – that spin from the wingtips. The vortices are mostly created when a plane is flying slow and the wings are working hardest to produce lift.
The bigger the plane, the bigger the wakes. The most virulent wakes leave smaller planes vulnerable if they run into one.
An Airbus A380 is 73 metres long and weighs between 386-560 tonnes, while the Bombardier Challenger 604 is just 21metres long and weighs between 17 and 21 tonnes.
When the Challenger faced the Airbus’s wake turbulence, both of the plane’s engines flamed out and its Ram Air Turbine would not work, causing it to plunge 10,000ft.
The aircraft’s pilots were able to regain control of the plane using ‘raw muscle force’ and were finally able to restart the engines.
They diverted their flight to Muscat airport in Oman, where they made an emergency landing.
Several of the nine people on board were taken to the hospital, with one person sustaining serious injuries in the incident.
The aircraft, operated by German carrier MHS Aviation, was totaled, with damage so extensive that it had to be written off.
An Airbus A380 (a file photo of the same model plane pictured above) is 73metres long and weighs between 386-560 tonnes, while the Bombardier Challenger 604 is just 21metres long and weighs between 17 and 21 tonnes
The incident happened at cruising altitudes known as ‘coffin corner’ because of their high risk.
Coffin corner is an altitude where a fixed-wing aircraft’s stall speed is near its critical mach number – the ratio of the speed of the aircraft to the speed of sound. Both caused by pressure over the wings.
In the region, it’s difficult to keep an aircraft stable during flight – if the plane goes to slow, it could stall at a high altitude.
If the plane goes too fast, it will exceed its mach number and it will go supersonic, which could cause the wings to fall off.
Germany’s Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) is investigating the incident, despite it happening in international waters.
The BFU declined to comment on the investigation because it is ongoing.
MailOnline contacted Emirates Airlines and MHS Aviation for comment but have not received a response.
An Airbus spokeswoman told IBTimes: ‘We are aware that an investigation is ongoing to determine the origin of turbulences encountered by a jet.
‘At this stage nothing indicates an Airbus A380 aircraft is involved and we cannot comment further on this incident, please contact the German BFU.’
A spokesman from the Flight Service Bureau (FSB), an information source for air operators, compared the amazing recovery to the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, where pilot Sully Sullenberger landed a US Airways Airbus on the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese in 2009.
But the FSB spokesman said that the incident also raises concerns that the Airbus 380 causes more danger to airways than previously thought.
‘With the A380 vs Challenger 604 incident, there is now growing concern amongst aircrews about the effects of the A380’s wake turbulence,’ the spokesman told The Times.
The dangers of wake turbulence have increased as navigation and air-traffic control technology improvements have allowed aircraft to fly closer to one another.
The European Aviation Safety Agency will soon release a bulletin to reduce the risk of such encounters. EASA said it had been working on a draft for the bulletin before the Challenger and Airbus incident.
‘Wake can be encountered up to 25 nautical miles behind the generating aeroplane,’ a draft of the EASA circular to EU airlines and air traffic controllers says, according to the Aviation Herald. ‘The encounters are mostly reported by pilots as sudden and unexpected events.’
‘When possible, contrails [vapour trails] should be used to visualise wakes and estimate if their flight path brings them across or in close proximity,’ the draft says.
This isn’t the first time a smaller aircraft has faced wake turbulence made by an Airbus 380.
In September 2012, a Virgin Australia Boeing 737 hit wake turbulence made by an Emirates A380 near Bali. Both planes made it to their destinations safely.
In 2011, an Air France Airbus A320 rolled left to an angle of 25-30 degrees after hitting wake turbulence made by an Emirates A380. No one was injured.
Also in 2011, a British Airways Airbus A320 rolled over 50 degrees and the autopilot disconnected after being hit by wake turbulence made by a Qantas Airbus A380 flying from London to Singapore. Four people on the British Airways flight had to be treated for serious injuries.
In another 2011 incident, wake turbulence from a Singapore Airlines Airbus 380 caused an Air France Boeing 747 do drop 200ft in 15 seconds and roll left and right. No one was injured, and both planes reached their destinations safely.