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DHL Aircraft Hit by Missile Over Baghdad Had Lost All Hydraulics

The DHL plane as shown in a video taken by the attackers

New York - Dec 08, 2003
Aviation Week & Space Technology reports in its December 8 issue that the DHL A300 aircraft hit by a missile over Baghdad on November 22 lost all three hydraulic systems and flight controls, forcing the pilot to land using engine power only. This type of landing is similar to the dramatic United Airlines DC-10 landing in Iowa in 1989, which had also lost all flight controls.

Pierre Ghyoot, secretary general of the Belgian Cockpit Assn. (BeCA), told AW&ST that the pilots were able to guide the aircraft to a safe landing using only engine power settings. The aircraft was departing Baghdad after delivering mail to US soldiers. Ghyoot said his organization is already planning to give the crew a safety award. The Department of Defense is investigating the missile attack.

When the missile exploded, the crew first thought an engine had suffered an uncontained failure, but all readings were normal, an aviation source familiar with the incident told AW&ST. Then the hydraulic pressures started dropping and a ground call told them the wing was trailing smoke. The captain could see that the wing was on fire. All hydraulic pressure was lost about a minute after the hit, the source said.

According to one aviation source familiar with the incident in Baghdad, the incredible feat of airmanship is explained partly by a safety seminar the DHL/European Air Transport (EAT) captain attended in Brussels earlier this year.

In a stroke of luck, one of the speakers was retired Capt. Al Haynes. In 1989, Haynes commanded the United Airlines DC-10 in which all the hydraulics had been lost due to a center engine rotor burst in cruise. Using engine thrust alone, the United crew was able to crash-land the crippled aircraft at the Sioux City, Iowa, airport, and the majority of the passengers survived.

In the past 25 years there have been 35 shoulder-fired missile attacks on civil aircraft, 24 resulting in crashes with 500 fatalities, according to AOC, the electronic warfare and information operations association, in Alexandria, Va. The U.S. Homeland Security Dept. is about to pick contractors to develop prototype missile-self defense systems for use on commercial aircraft.

For the full text of the AW&ST article, please go to

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