An Airbus A340-500 carrying 275 people vanished from sight and was invisible on airport radar screens immediately after a botched take-off at Melbourne airport, in which it came within seconds of disaster.
For a few terrifying moments, those on duty in the airport’s control tower had no way of knowing the fate of Emirates Airlines flight 407 after it limped into the air and flew low over houses in the densely populated suburb of Keilor on March 20, The Weekend Australian reported.
The Emirates plane, bound for Dubai, struggled to take off and then gain altitude after one of its pilots wrongly calculated the weight of the aircraft by 100tonnes. The tail of the plane hit the runway five times before the captain ordered full thrust at the last minute to lift the Airbus over the airport perimeter fence, knocking out a strobe light and an antenna on the way.
A preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureaufound pilot error was to blame for the accident, which has been described as the closest Australia has come to a major airline disaster.
But now Rob Mason, president of the air traffic controllers union, Civil Air, has revealed that after take-off, the low-flying Airbus disappeared from view of the airport control
“The aircraft was lost to sight against the lights of the industrial estate to the south — it was not high enough to be seen,” Mason said. He said air traffic controllers noticed something was wrong when the plane was halfway down the runway. “Then they saw sparks coming from the back of the aircraft as its tail struck the ground as it tried to become airborne.”
Sources said that after leaving the airport the Airbus still struggled to climb quickly, meaning it did not immediately show up on the control tower’s radars, which show an aircraft only when it has reached take-off height.