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KUALA LUMPUR: Swift action by the flight crew of a London-bound Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet averted a possible disaster shortly after take-off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang early yesterday.
The pilot and co-pilot of flight MH2 were alerted by the onboard alarm system of a fire in engine No. 1 soon after the Boeing 747-400 took off just after midnight. They immediately undertook emergency procedures. On board were 351 passengers and 21 crew.
The plane circled the airport for about 90 minutes before landing without incident at KLIA about 2am.
Blogger Datuk Ahiruddin Attan, who was one of the passengers, wrote in his blog that after 10 seconds in the air, he heard a loud "thud".
"The big bird shuddered and then someone said 'fire!'. A stewardess ran up the aisle to the first class cabin, followed by a male colleague.
"I did not see any fire. I was at the window seat in the 16th row, just a few seats before the four engines of the 747. My eyes were trying to locate the ground about 5,000ft below. The worst did cross my mind," he wrote.
Ahiruddin described the incident as "the scariest two hours" of his flying experience but applauded the cabin crew for their professionalism.
He said the stewardesses were cool despite their fears and continued to engage passengers throughout the time the aircraft had to circle low to dump fuel for the landing.
"Those two hours reaffirmed one thing for me and my fellow passengers, other than the fact that life is fragile, that MAS has the best cabin crew," Ahiruddin said.
Aviation experts, when met at the ongoing Defence Services Asia 2012 exhibition, said they were told that the pilots had shut down engine No. 1 and engaged the automatic extinguisher to put out the fire in flight.
A Boeing official said that although the jet was designed to fly with one engine, flight manual procedures recommended that the pilot not take any chances and land at the nearest airport.
Another aviator, who had served as an air force chief and later as a commercial pilot, said that once the pilots had control of the aircraft, they would inform air traffic control of the nature of emergency and attempt to land the jet at the nearest airport.
"Once clearance is given, the pilot will fly towards an unpopulated area like a forest or over the sea to dump excess fuel to reduce the aircraft's weight and to minimise the risk of an explosion during landing."
Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said they were investigating the incident with assistance from MAS and Boeing.
In a statement issued some 12 hours after the incident, MAS said the flight experienced a technical defect and it was in the interest of the passengers and crew that the captain decided to return to KLIA.