‘Shaking’ Malaysia Airlines flight turns back to Australia

A Malaysia Airlines flight was forced to divert to central Australia after a technical issue left the aircraft “shuddering”, passengers say.

Flight MH122 was travelling from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday when it turned back not far from Broome, in Australia’s north-west.

The plane, carrying 224 people, landed safely at Alice Springs Airport at 17:48 local time (06:48 GMT).

There had been “a loud bang” from the left hand engine, the airline said.

“This was followed by a warning indicator which appeared on the electronic aircraft monitoring system,” the company said in a statement. “The captain then requested for the cabin crew to prepare for a normal landing.”

Passengers on board said the plane had been shaking and making loud noises.

Earlier, Malaysia Airlines identified the problem only as “a technical fault on one of the aircraft’s engines” – but said the plane’s safety was not compromised at any point.

Passenger Sanjeev Pandev said the plane, which was an Airbus A330-300, appeared to have a problem about four hours into the flight.

“It was shaking and vibrating and the noise was getting louder and louder” he told the BBC.

“Some people were praying and people had tears in their eyes. It was a really terrifying moment.”

He said passengers were taken through emergency procedures by staff, some of whom appeared “nervous and terrified themselves”.

Malaysia Airlines, however, said there was “no chaos reported in the cabin”.

Another passenger praised the pilot for landing safely.

Prof Graham Braithwaite, an expert in aviation safety at Cranfield University, said it is possible one of the engine’s blades was damaged.

“You’ve got a very large fan that is spinning in a jet engine like this,” he said. “Some of these blades are spinning around, and some are fixed.”

“If one of these comes off, it’ll make a thumping great noise – then you’ve got this fan spinning around unevenly.”

Such damage can be caused by many things – including a manufacturing defect, or a piece of debris or a bird being sucked into the engine.

But the danger to passengers is small, since “the engines will generally cope with this sort of stuff”, he said.

Modern jet engines are also so reliable that planes can fly safely on one engine for an extended period of time.

“The likelihood of a mechanical engine failure is so remote that the chances of another happening on the other engine is extremely unusual,” Prof Braithwaite said.

Malaysia Airlines said safety remained its top priority.

The group’s CEO, Izham Ismail, apologised to customers for “the anxiety experienced.”

“I thank all crew onboard for managing the situation by the book and in the calmest way possible,” he said.

Passengers were being accommodated at nearby hotels before boarding a new flight on Friday, he added.

In June, an AirAsia X flight bound for Kuala Lumpur was also forced to turn back to Australia after an engine problem left it shaking.

AirAsia X did not give details about the technical issue behind the incident, but said the safety of passengers was its “utmost priority”.