Jump to content

The DHL Baghdad airbus


Recommended Posts

Here is the story (from Flight International 9-15 Nov.):

Story emerges of how DHL crew controlled stricken A300 to a landing at Baghdad in November 2003

Full details are emerging of how the crew of the DHL Airbus A300B4 freighter that was struck by a missile near Baghdad International airport in November 2003 succeeded in landing the aircraft back at the airfield. All three hydraulic systems on the twinjet were drained, so the crew suffered complete loss of all the flight controls - but the engines kept operating.

When it was hit by the SA-14 missile, the aircraft's left wingtip was severely damaged and on fire, the A300 rapidly lost hydraulic pressure from all its three systems, depriving the pilots of all flight controls, slats and flaps.

After the missile struck at about 8,000ft (2,440m) the aircraft initially continued its climb away from the airport, but when flight engineer Mario Rofail summed up the hydraulic problems the pilots realised they would not regain their flight controls.

Airbus has since confirmed that, for the rest of the flight, the horizontal stabiliser remained stuck at the trim position appropriate for flight at 215kt (398km/h) airspeed with the engines set at climb thrust.

After experimenting with controlling the aircraft's heading, pitch, bank and vertical profile with thrust alone, eventually the crew coaxed the aircraft into a shallow descent in which the speed varied between 270kt and 290kt. Even though the aircraft was flying too fast and was still above 5,000ft, Capt Eric Gennotte called for the gear to be lowered using the gravity extension procedure. Rofail did this successfully, and it stabilised the aircraft at about 215kt.

When the crew were ready to fly back toward the airport they had lost sight of it, but first officer Steeve Michielsen navigated the aircraft on to a long straight approach to runway 33. Because the approach was oscillatory and the configuration non-standard the ground proximity warning system was continually sounding.

The wing was still on fire, and Rofail was managing the fuel system to keep the left engine fed but not lose fuel through damaged left wing tanks.

As the ground approached there was turbulence from the crosswind – 290° at 20kt. Gennotte managed to set the aircraft down on the runway with nose-up pitch and a moderate rate of descent without causing wing-drop, but having no steering or rudder the aircraft rapidly veered off the runway. Rofail selected both engines to full reverse thrust, surrounding the aircraft in dust as it slowed in the sandy ground. The crew shut the engines down and evacuated the aircraft.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is the text of an e-mail I received in regards to this incident:

2003 Hugh Gordon-Burge Trophy Awarded to DHL Flight Crew Prestigious award given to crew of Airbus hit by missile as

they were leaving Baghdad

The Guild of Air Pilots

and Air Navigators, a British organization formed in 1929, promotes

air safety by presenting trophies and other awards for outstanding

performance in aviation by individuals or organisations. The Hugh

Gordon-Burge Memorial Award is given to the Captain, a member

of a flight deck crew, or a cabin attendant whose actions

contribute outstandingly by the saving of his/her aircraft or

passengers, or made a significant contribution to future air


The Guild has awarded

the 2003 Hugh Gordon-Burge Award to Captain Eric Gennotte, First

Officer Steeve Michielsen and Flight Engineer Mario Rofail. All

three work for DHL. The text of the award is transcribed here,


On 22nd November 2003, a DHL A300 B4 had been airborne from

Baghdad Airport for just over 3 minutes when the calm in the

cockpit was shattered by the sound of a loud bang. At about 8,000ft

an explosion was heard, followed by a cacophony of aural warnings

and visual displays showing a master warning on all flight


Unbeknown to the crew at that time, the aircraft had been

struck by a missile. The Flight Engineer, Mario Rofail, called that

the green and yellow hydraulic systems were lost, and as he started

preparing for the double hydraulic loss emergency checklist

procedure the Captain, Eric Gennotte, announced that he was having

difficulty controlling the aircraft. The First Officer, Steeve

Michielsen, tried unsuccessfully to assist the Captain to try and

regain control. The F/E then announced that the third hydraulic

system was lost as well.

At that point the crew

realised that there was little likelihood that the flight controls

would become functional again. There was no emergency checklist or

procedure to help them recover from this scenario. The situation

appeared hopeless and they were very much on their own.

The aircraft was without conventional pilot input. The stick

and rudder were ineffective. The flight control surfaces deprived

of their hydraulic muscle, were aligned with the airflow (hinge

moment zero).

The configuration was frozen:

1) Slats and flaps could not be extended

2) Spoilers were no longer controllable

3) The position of the horizontal stabiliser could not be

adjusted. It was and continued to remain at the trim position for

215 Knots with climb thrust. (This setting was to pose particular

challenges for the crew as they attempted to stabilise the aircraft

for an approach descent profile)

A state of emergency was declared by Steeve to ATC. The crew

was told that the left engine was on fire. Mario advised his fellow

crew members that this was not possible since all engine

indications and fire warning systems were normal. However, with no

hydraulics and a fire visible from the left wing he knew the

aircraft was seriously damaged.

The tension was extreme on the flight deck. The 'sense

of disbelief' was felt by all the crew members.

Eric announced that they could control the pitch attitude by

adjusting thrust. Then began a learning period during which Eric,

Steeve and Mario, discovered how to control the pitch by modulating

thrust. Initially the thrust lever movements were large and

essentially symmetrical, and the aircraft thus continued a wide,

unsteady, 360 degree turn to the left.

The crew found that they could effectively stop the climb by

reducing thrust, which caused an initial airspeed decrease whilst

the nose dropped, but then the airspeed started to


They had to cope with this apparent paradox, due to the

change in pitching moment that could not be corrected by the jammed

horizontal stabiliser. The initial climb at 215 knots was changed

into a shallow controlled descent by reducing thrust, leading to an

unavoidable speed increase: Between 10,000 and 5,000 feet, IAS

varied between 270 and 290 knots.

At that time Eric ordered the extension of the landing gear

by the emergency gravity extension procedure, even though the speed

exceeded the maximum allowed for landing gear extension.

Mario successfully manually extended the gear. It made a lot

of noise since the gear doors remained open. The extended gear

provided additional drag, which helped stabilise the aircraft. This

was the only means to bring the speed back towards 210 knots. The

decision to extend the gear so early on proved to be a vital


With the aircraft controllable in pitch around level flight

and at a speed compatible with landing, Eric, supported by Steeve

and Mario, set about learning to control the direction of


Asymmetric handling of the throttles could control bank.

When the left engine alone was accelerated, the wings returned to

the horizontal, similarly when the right engine only was retarded

the same levelling effect could be achieved.

This was a very difficult procedure to perform, especially

when trying simultaneously to maintain horizontal flight and follow

a heading:

1) The response to thrust change appeared rapidly in pitch,

but roll response was delayed, since the roll resulted from the

sideslip induced by the asymmetric thrust, and there was a lag

before this took effect

2) Since the left wing was damaged, the degree of asymmetric

thrust had to be found which was sufficient to compensate for the

asymmetry of lift, and it had to be maintained while the thrust was

adjusted to control the slope; easier said than done

Eric was effectively flying an experimental aircraft and was

continually gaining experience in manipulating the aircraft by the

throttles. Steeve provided close assistance making some corrective

inputs. There were a few rather alarming roll excursions beyond 30

degrees during that time. The aircraft remained very difficult to

control, however confidence was gained as the flight


Eventually, they could consider navigation back to the field

which had been lost from sight during the "training manoeuvres".

Steeve took on the navigation. He suggested that a long final of at

least 20 nautical miles was needed. The aircraft started a second

360 degree orbit, this time under more control. Eric started a

right turn to come back towards runway 33R, the longer of the two

runways at Baghdad.

The descent flight path then had to be established. That was

not simple either: the descent angle selected by the average value

of thrust was not easy to assess, since the whole process was

subject to oscillation. It was thus an average descent angle that

had to be judged, all the while maintaining the heading by

asymmetric adjustment of the engines.

To complicate matters further, the turbulence associated

with a wind of 20 knots from 290 degrees (left crosswind component

tended to excite natural oscillations, and in addition GPWS

warnings associated with the abnormal landing configuration sounded

repeatedly on short final.

Eric concentrated on the essential, keeping the aircraft

under control and reaching the airfield where the fire services

could fight the fire on the left wing.

Steeve assisted with efficient and timely call-outs,

announcing distances and altitudes. He stressed the point that the

power must not be completely reduced on touch-down; otherwise, the

symmetrical thrust would induce a turn to the left, particularly

undesirable just before ground contact.

Mario, who, in addition to a close watch on all the systems,

monitored the fuel remaining in the damaged left wing. It was vital

that both engines were kept running by ensuring a positive supply

of fuel and ignition. If one of the engines had lost power or

failed, the aircraft and crew would have certainly been lost. He

was therefore prepared to open the cross feed in case the left main

tank emptied, but not too soon because the fuel in the right wing

would then be lost through the leak on the left side. Furthermore,

he was able to relieve both pilots by taking over all radio

communication and made sure the aircraft was depressurised before

touchdown to guarantee a successful emergency evacuation.

Mario contacted ATC for an updated visual assessment to

request if the aircraft was still on fire. A military helicopter

replied that the left wing was on fire and that the flame was the

length of the aircraft (50 metres). In spite of the extreme stress

Mario had the courtesy to say "thank you" to the controller. He

also requested that both runways 33L and 33R be kept free and that

all emergency services be ready.

The tension again increased as the ground approached. At

250ft, the pitch attitude, still slowly oscillating, dropped

towards a negative value, which was most alarming so close to the

ground. It was restored nose-up by a large increase in the thrust

on both engines.

Towards 100ft, the aircraft was tracking to the runway

threshold, but with a heading ten degrees less than the orientation

of the runway. Eric made his final lateral control correction,

reducing the right engine only. The aircraft banked to the right

and the angle of convergence began to diminish.

Twenty-five long minutes after impact of the missile, the

A300 B4 finally landed on runway 33L, without further


1) At a positive pitch attitude

2) With a moderate sink rate (less than 10ft/sec, far below

the tolerances for the landing gear)

3) At an angle of bank of ten degrees to the right, and

heading diverging about eight degrees to the left of the runway


Without any direct means of directional control, however,

the aircraft rapidly went off the side of the runway. The throttles

were retarded and selected to full reverse by Mario. The sandy

ground provided a significant extra braking force and the aircraft,

in spite of the high speed at touchdown, stopped after a landing

run of the order of one kilometre, raising an impressive cloud of

sand behind it.

After engine shutdown the crew evacuated the aircraft from

the right, inches away from a coil of razor wire. They ran a safe

distance from the aircraft as the wing was still on fire only to be

intercepted by some military emergency services personnel who

warned them that they were standing in a possible mine field. Their

incredible feat was almost spoiled after taking their first steps

back on the ground.

For their amazing and momentous actions in the saving of

their aircraft, the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award is presented

to each crewmember of the DHL flight.

Aero-News Networks would like add our congratulations to

Captain Gennotte, FO Michielsen and FE Rofail for winning

this prestigious award.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...