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Ibrahim Jalaluddin (fifth from right) and Vincent Low (third from left) pictured with AirAsia X's D7237 crew after successfully landing safely at Perth International Airport, Australia, last Sunday. Photo courtesy of Tony Fernandes’ Facebook page.

KUALA LUMPUR: Ibrahim Jalaluddin, the AirAsia X pilot who captained Flight D7237, which was forced to turn back to Perth, Australia due to an engine malfunction, was flying at 38,000 feet (11,582.4m) when he heard a sound which he took to be a collision between two metals.

“I thought we had hit another plane. (Then) I knew that the left engine was not functioning, (because the) autopilot (kept turning the plane) left and right,” he added.

Ibrahim’s checks on the engine confirmed his theory, and he and his co-pilot, Vincent Low, shut down the engine before turning right and sending a mayday signal to the air traffic control centre in Perth.

He said he then brought the plane – which was then flying on a single engine – to a lower altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620m) as per standard procedure, in a bid to stabilise it.

“But when we were doing this, there was suddenly a terrible vibration. I and my assistant discussed the matter and looked at the position of the plane while considering our various options.

“We decided to reduce our speed to the minimum level allowed to reduce the vibration – but it did not work.

“(But) we never gave up.

“Instead, we (pressed on and eventually) found a way to land safely in Perth,” he told Berita Harian in an interview on Wednesday night.

Ibrahim reiterated that all efforts made to reduce the vibration on their journey back to Perth failed.

While he did not panic during the 100-minute emergency, he said the situation, the likes of which he had never experienced in his 25-year career, had humbled him.

The incident began while the plane was in Carnarvon airspace near the west coast of Australia while Ibrahim was writing a report and his assistant was eating.

Asked why he decided to return to Perth instead of landing at the airports of Geraldton or Learmonth which were significantly nearer, Ibrahim said that the decision was made after consulting Low and weighing various factors.

“The emergency that we were undergoing did not require immediate landing. Based on Airbus’ and AirAsia’s SOP (standard operating procedure), emergency landings are permissible in cases involving fire and smoke.

“I had also not landed at Geraldton or Learmonth (because I was not familiar with) their locations or runways, and the plane was heavy. There was also a possibility that more equipment would get damaged in landing,” he added.

Ibrahim then announced the problem to the passengers – the fact that the plane was turning back to Perth, and that those on board had to be prepared for any possibility.

He also stressed that it never crossed his mind to land the plane on water, but he nevertheless asked the cabin crew to stand by for an emergency landing.

Ibrahim said that he was neither panicking, nor was he afraid – as has been alleged by certain quarters – but he admitted that his voice shook as though he was in fear while making the announcement.

“It is possible that my voice shook and it sounded as though I was in fear because the plane was vibrating, and it’s possible that it distorted my voice making it (seem) that way. My assistant and I were really calm and always talking about how to handle the situation. We did not panic or get scared… it did not cross my mind.

“I only thought about the safety of the passengers and the plane,” he added.

On his call for passengers to pray, Ibrahim said he did so because he believes in God and surrendered himself to the higher power.

“I prayed and continued to pray and it is not wrong to ask passengers to pray with me. I am grateful that we were able to land the plane safely,” he said, and thanked his co-pilot, crew and passengers on board who underwent the situation with him.

Ibrahim had ignited controversy by telling passengers “I hope you all say a prayer. I will be saying a prayer too and let’s hope we all get back home safely” during the emergency. But many, including a passenger of the plane, have defended Ibrahim against accusations that he was creating panic.

The plane, bound for Kuala Lumpur with 359 people on board, made international headlines when it turned back to Perth almost two hours into the flight following an engine malfunction on Sunday. Video clips of passengers enduring the plane’s heavy vibrations backed accounts that the aircraft was “shaking like a washing machine”. Flight D7237, however, landed safely in Perth on the same morning and no one on board was harmed.

The airplane has been grounded indefinitely in Perth by the Australia Transport and Safety Bureau. Their report is expected in several months.

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