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General News Sun, 29 Feb 2004

Ghana Airways explains: Discovery of stowaway and flame sparks unrelated

Accra, Feb. 29, GNA - The management of Ghana Airways says the discovery of a stowaway in a delicate compartment of a New York flight in the early hours of Saturday was not related to sparks of flames reported on the tail engine of the plane.


"The two incidents were unrelated, they had no links whatsoever," Captain Collins Fosu, the company's Chief Pilot said in reaction to a Ghana News Agency (GNA) report on the eventful pre-departure moments of flight GH150 to John F. Kennedy International Airport.


Captain Fosu, who had initially ruled out any technical problem with the flight, based on preliminary briefings he had, however confirmed later there was "a tail pipe fire" which the pilot, an experienced Captain, promptly cleared.


The GNA reported that a nerve-racking technical fault trace on the flight led to the retrieval of a young man believed to be stowing away in a delicate compartment beneath the cockpit.


The report said the plane with about 240 passengers was scheduled to take off at the Kotoka International Airport at 2330 hours but finally took off at exactly 0230 hours.

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According to the GNA, it all began when flames were seen tonguing out at the tail engine of the DC10, as the pilot was warming up the engines in preparation for the taxiway.


The flames and the thick cloud of smoke that followed caused panic among scores of worn-out and anxious relatives, who had been waiting on the upper terrace of the departure hall to witness the take off which was already behind its estimated departure time by almost two hours.


"We saw the flames in two successive sparks, followed by thick smoke. It was terrifying," a GNA reporter recalled, saying, what confused many witnesses was the fact that the plane continued to turn and headed towards the taxiway despite the sparks a few minutes earlier. This made many among the waiting crowd to believe that the pilot might not have been aware of the incident.


The GNA reporter made a distress call to the Civil Aviation control tower and informed the duty officer about the sparks of flames seen few minutes earlier.


The control tower duty officer promptly responded and confirmed that he had also seen the flames and that he had informed the pilot about the situation. "It is true I also saw the fire and I have duly informed the pilot. I believe he's going to work around it."

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The reporter said he noticed that the pilot had aborted the take off, while he was still speaking with the control tower.


"We also saw from afar two vehicles - a minibus and a blinking van - drive towards the aircraft. More vehicles followed with some officials, who I guess, were traffic personnel and technical men." After about 10-15 minutes of exchanges between the occupants of the vehicles and the aircraft crew, the plane withdrew to its original packing lot and after a frantic search in the compartment beneath the cockpit, the stowaway was pulled out.


The discovery of the boy in what some airline officials described at as a "delicate compartment" further raised the anxiety of witnesses including some airline officials who held that the pilot should have allowed passengers to disembark to enable the aircraft to be examined more thoroughly, the GNA report said, quoting an official who said if he had a relative on board, he would not have allowed them to stay on and continue the journey in that manner.


The pilot should have spent more time than this to check the aircraft for the sake of security and safety," the official was quoted as saying.


The GNA said it was however unclear whether it was the presence of the stowaway in the compartment and perhaps his attempts to scuttle his way from underneath that caused the flames at the tail engine. In his reaction, Capt Fosu said the pilot later on Saturday afternoon confirmed that the control tower informed him of flames tonguing out of the tail engine.

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"You (the GNA) are right on that information. We call it a tail pipe fire which occurs as a result of fuel management to the engine," he said and congratulated the reporter for appropriately informing the control tower about the flames.


He said when that happens the pilot had to respond quickly by administering some checks and that in this case the pilot responded swiftly to address the problem.


Capt Fosu said there were 246 passengers on board the plane at the time, adding that there was no panic among any one of them. He said it was the pilot who detected on his cockpit panel that one of the doors in the under compartment had not closed well at the time he had started the engines and was heading for the taxiway.


He said the suspicion of the pilot increased when he found out from ground engineers that no work had been done in the compartment. He therefore, withdrew to the parking lot and with some difficulties, the compartment was opened and the 20-year-old boy was found hiding there. Following the discovery and removal of the stowaway, a further check was conducted on all other compartments of the aircraft to ensure maximum security of the flight, the Chief Pilot reiterated. He confirmed that management was initiating a probe into the incident.

Source: GNA