An investigation is under way into a ‘freak accident’ where a wheel fell from a plane shortly after it took off at Orange airport.
One of the dual right-hand main wheels fell from the Regional Express (Rex) Saab 340 in mid-air, after it left the airport about 2pm on Sunday.
The plane has more than
likely been used for flights in Dubbo.
A Rex spokesperson said staff on board flight ZL117 to Sydney noticed the wheel had fallen from the aircraft soon after take-off and was found within the airport boundary after it dropped.
Passengers inside the plane were aware of what was happening and where told by staff to read the safety card and take the brace position.
The plane was able to land in Sydney and the airline has confirmed that none of the 30 passengers were injured.
A report is being prepared for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, with Rex preparing its own internal investigation.
“It was simply a structural error within the wheel, it was not caused by human error at all,” Rex flight operation general manager Chris Hine said.
According to Rex the plane is designed to be able to operate without one of the dual wheels.
“In the 13 years I’ve been with Kendall and Rex I have never seen a wheel fall off,” Mr Hine said.
“We have a good safety record and this incident will not jeopardise that,” he said.
Rex said the entire fleet would not be grounded.
The incident comes after Rex has lifted fuel surcharges up to six times in the past four months.
The latest increase, which was blamed on the continuing rise of high oil prices, jumped by $4, from $40 to $44.
Incident could have been avoided: pilot
According to Orange’s Central Western Daily a wheel falling from the plane could have been avoided if a pre-flight inspection had been carried out.
Local pilot Eamon Johnston, who was taxiing behind the REX plane before flight ZL 177 took off, says the whole incident could have been avoided.
“We saw the right landing gear wheel was on the verge of falling off as it was taxiing,” Mr Johnston said. “
“We made an attempt to contact the pilot before it took off, but were ignored.”
Mr Johnston said the Rex pilot only replied after it had taken off and the wheel had already fallen off.
Mr Johnston said if he could see the wheel was about to fall off, then it should have been noticed by Rex staff.
“A pre-flight briefing would have easily noticed it and it would have been avoided.”