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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A330 Engine failure over the Atlantic

It was a dark and stormy night and I was enroute, staring out the window, thinking about my agent telling me that I should never begin a story with the weather. But as luck would have it, weather is always involved when flying. And then, when I was least expecting it...

Bang! Engine failure at 38,000 feet. I begin my 90-degree turn to the right with the intent to keep her coming around for a full 180-degree turn. I’m heading back. To where? I don’t know. And my airspeed is decaying rapidly.

As I begin my turn I notice the FMA flashing a message ---“THR MCT” Yes, just like a woman she’s telling me what I’d forgotten to do. I move the operating thrust lever to MCT... Max Continuous Thrust. My hands are busy and my mind is whirling like the wind, but I turn on all my lights to warn other traffic I’m coming down.

My goal, which I doubt is attainable, is to maintain altitude until I reach my 15-mile parallel track. But her wings are clean and she is efficient. At the very least I’ll minimize my rate of descent. I haven’t finished my turn, and I’m maintaining altitude. And then I see it---green dot. In seconds I’ll have no more energy to maintain altitude. I’ll have energy, but my airplane will have no airspeed. I spin back my speed selection to match up with green dot... my goal. I select the secondary flight plan for a reference to a parallel course reversal.

I want to minimize my descent rate until I’m clear of other traffic, so I reach up preparing to select open descent. But wait! I stop myself. If I pull open descent now, the thrust lever on my operating engine will come to idle. Not good. I immediately press the autothrust instinctive disconnect button under my thumb. Autothrust off, I select a lower altitude and then pull open descent. I'll check the PERF page or the PROG page, for REC MAX later, to establish a level off altitude. But for now, I'm on my way down. But who is below me?

I reach down and select “Below” on the TCAS, enabling me to see aircraft up to 9900 feet below my current altitude. I’m now on a heading 180 degrees course reversal in a descent. But where shall I go?

My first officer has already conducted the ECAM items then performed the checklist. I select the DATA page and the closest airport prompt. But what is the most suitable airport? There’s no fire. I have time. Thankfully we’d been checking the weather along our flight. As luck would have it EGLL, London Heathrow, is our closest and most suitable airport! The only airport for miles with weather good enough to get in, a runway long enough to land upon, services to take care of everyone, and the manager of ATC, Munawar Chaudhary, will take excellent care of us. Not to mention, it’s April 4th and he’s hosting an ATC pilot forum. We’re all invited!

I don’t want to fly across the tracks, but maintaining the current driftdown parallel on the track will take me 200 miles before I can turn. I want to turn to Heathrow now and I no longer need green dot. I speed up, and reselect autothrust to get down quicker. Once below the tracks at FL280 we can go direct.

We talked to dispatch and ATC, and told the flight attendants the plan of action. Life is good and we're on our way to EGLL.

Click Here to join us for the Heathrow Party! You are Invited!

Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene


  1. Whew, that was lucky! No one below you. And I'm really glad you pilots know all those moves and technical details. Sheesh. I'm in for the Heathrow party.

  2. Great end to an exciting story! Or, is it just the beginning? :)

  3. Hmm. A wonderful post, thank you. I think most of your CRM training is focused on use of on-board resources. A shame. WHen the stuff hits the fan - more like when one of the fans quits turning, the up-front drivers need on-board coordination as well as a lot of exterenal support and coordination. Landing a one-pusher airplane on a suitable airfield is not a major challenge for a competent pilot. Getting there without running into someone else might be. As most folks always say, " drive the airplane and the other reads the map..." including talking to ATC, the clearance folks and any nearby traffic. Luckily, there are rules and protocols for jumping out of place on your trac, reversing course if necessary and descending. And of course, the good pilot already knows the procedures and looks them up only for validation. When it works, that lost engine is an urgency, not an emergency. When the basic protocols don't or cannot work, it becomes an emergency and everyone earns their money getting out of your way. Those goofy lawyers know the law and good pilots know the rules of the airways. Not where to find them, but KNOW them. Thanks for an excellent post, Karlene.

  4. I'm thinking we should all go to the Heathrow party! That would be fun.

  5. Heather, I'm thinking that it's just the beginning.

  6. Great informative blog. Excellent as always. The runways would be ,what we call , "sterilised " for you and you would get vectors for a straight in approach for a 10 mile final. Come on down to the party. I'm thinking I better order more beer :)

  7. I only understood about a third of that, but it seems pretty intense. It makes engine failures in my little Warrior look like cheesecake. o_o

  8. Munawar, A sterilized runway... sounds like a good thing. green beer.

  9. Christine, you don't need to understand it, yet. The only thing our passengers need to understand is we're training and will take great care of them!

  10. Hi,Karlene san.
    Thanks for sharing!
    From this writing,I don't know exactly what should I do in cockpit right now though I am sure I should image all of things(engine failure or something like that failure) in daily life.So once I got these circumstance,I can do multitask and have more possibility to keep passengers and air safe.

    Have a great day:D


  11. Great story! I love hearing from airline pilots. I havn't read in a while, how's the book coming?

  12. Thank you Scote1992~ Book is coming along nicely. I'm working on it now. Molding it into perfection.

  13. Hi Craig, I found your post hiding in spam. Thanks for the comment. CRM is huge, and takes a great deal of coordination when the stuff hits the fan. But... first rule of thumb, "Fly the plane." This procedure takes that into first priority. The other pilot will be busy shutting down the engine and running the procedure. Yes, it's a crew deal for sure!


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