An apparently ‘conscious technician’ found in the hold shortly after takeoff forced a Kenya Airways Boeing to return to the airport.
A ground staff member who apparently became an involuntary stowaway in a plane’s fuselage just before it took off has led to plenty of confusion, with none of South Africa’s aviation regulatory authorities or the airline involved willing to comment on the potentially deadly incident yesterday.
The serious breach of aviation rules involved a Kenya Airways Boeing 787 – flying from Johannesburg to Nairobi – which had to return to OR Tambo International Airport after a maintenance engineer was found on board.
According to the online publication Aviation Herald, the Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8, registration 5Y-KZC, was flying out of Johannesburg when the crew was informed that a maintenance engineer was on board.
The aircraft had to return about 30 minutes later.
The aircraft remained on the ground for about an hour before it departed again for Nairobi.
The Citizen contacted the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) to get a comment on how the worker, believed to be an engineer, ended up on the plane, and how they were allowed to take off with him on board.
Acsa referred enquiries to Kenya Airways, who did not reply by the time of going to press.
Kenya news sites said Kenya Airways did not confirm claims of the “stowaway”, only stating, “we had an air turn-back due to operational reasons, however, the same flight left Johannesburg at 1.35pm”.
But according to aviation expert Vincent Lessing, who was quoted on Traveller24, a number of activities take place on the ground to have the aircraft ready.
“If a technical item requires an engineer’s attention, for example, it will be attended to while other activities continue. The question then is were the proper checks conducted before push back or the ‘doors closed’ call was made? There was either a rush or loss of situational awareness,” said Lessing.
Once the aircraft was loaded and all the ground activities had taken place, the engineers ensured the release of the aircraft after performing mandatory checks that include pre- and post-flight inspection.
“While it remains unclear where the maintenance engineer was found after the landing, it is suspected he could have been in one of the aircraft compartments and not the pressure-controlled cabin,” said Lessing.
The cargo hold of a Boeing 787 is pressurised, along with the rest of the aircraft, other than the wheel wells. Because the fuselage of the aircraft is also insulated like the cabin, the temperature within the cargo hold would not have fallen below freezing, especially on such a short flight.
At 9,500m above sea level – which was the height the jet had achieved before turning back – the outside air temperature would have been around -45 degrees Celcius.
In July, the frozen body of a man fell into a garden in London from the landing gear of a plane, believed to be a Kenya Airways aircraft from Nairobi to Heathrow. Investigators believed he was a Kenyan man in his 30s.
The Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) said it was not involved in airline management and maintenance.
“ATNS is responsible for managing the South African airspace and not involved in airline management and/or maintenance,” spokesperson Percy Morokane said yesterday.
The SA Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba said it is investigating “this matter, but understand this was not a stowaway but a technician”.
The technician was apparently conscious during landing.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.