STANDARD Chartered Bank managing director Mizinga Melu has relived the horrendous experience of being on Emirates Airline, Flight EK 714 which caught fire 30 minutes after take-off from the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka on Sunday night.
Mrs Melu, who is also Zambia Daily Mail board chairperson, narrated the hair-raising experience of over 135 passengers and 15 crew members.
“We could have died…Thank God we are alive,” the shaken Mrs Melu said.
According to Mrs Melu, all seemed well until 30 minutes in the air when “we heard a bang…it was so loud and suddenly the plane started shaking…Thank God we are alive…I’m traumatised.”
Mrs Melu was flying to America through Dubai.
Emirates country manager Khalid Ali Hassan said flight EK 714, which was flying at an altitude of 34,000 feet above sea level, returned safely to Lusaka after an engine failure.
The Airbus 330-200 carrying 135 passengers took off from KK International Airport around 23:00 hours.
Mr Hassan said Emirates engineers from the Dubai head office were scheduled to arrive in the country yesterday to establish the cause of the fire.
Impeccable sources have also disclosed that the British manufacturers of the Rolls Royce engines and other aircraft body are today expected in the country to launch comprehensive investigations.
The manufacturers are “seriously concerned” about the fault because it is the first time an airbus 330-200 has developed such a serious fault which could be a manufacturing error, the sources said.
“The aircraft landed normally, taxied to the stand and passengers disembarked. Passengers were accommodated in hotels and have now been re-booked on alternative flights with Emirates or other airlines. The safety of our passengers and crew is of utmost importance and will not be compromised,” Emirates spokesperson Ms Gillian Langmead said.
A check for some of the affected customers at some hotels in Lusaka yielded no results as management at the hotels declined to disclose clients lodging on the Emirates account.
But impeccable sources at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport disclosed that the engine is extensively damaged and requires replacement and that blades snapped and ripped through the engine cover.
The sources said about three port side fan blades snapped off the propeller and shot through the engine nacelle (engine cover or housing), causing a big hole.
The port side is the left hand side of a plane occupied by the captain while the co-pilot occupies the star bode on the right hand side.
The sources said the development caused a fire to the engine which the pilots managed to put out using an inbuilt fire extinguisher operated from the cockpit.
“The plane left at 23:00 hours and the next flight we were going to service is KQ [Kenya Airways] after clearing Emirates but we received information when it was 64 miles [about 103 kilometres] away from Kennth Kaunda International airport, that the Emirates plane had an engine fault.
“It had an alternative of landing in Ndola but the airport does not operate for 24 hours, and it is limited in capacity to handle such a big plane,” the source said.
The source added that the plane also had another alternative of landing in a neighbouring country but could not because of instability in that country.
And a check at the airport around 08:00 hours yesterday found an investigations team made up of officials from the Department of Civil Aviation and Zambia Air Force, inspecting the affected engine and taking photographs for preliminary investigations.
The plane had been towed away from the apron and its engine covers were visibly covered with black soot. It was cordoned off with masking tapes.
Airport officials were by press time searching for possible debris which could have fallen from the plane, to no avail.