A passenger of a Saudia Airlines flight bound to Dubai was injured after a water cannon salute, that was intended to celebrate the Saudi Arabia National Day, went awry, according to a report made public recently by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
The incident happened on September 20 last year at 10.38am after a Saudia Airlines flight SV566 from Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport landed at Dubai International Airport (DXB).
There were two flight crew members, five cabin crew members and 119 passengers on-board.
According to the GCAA investigation, the flight and the landing were uneventful as the aircraft (an Airbus A320-214) taxied to gate C58 of DXB as instructed.
After turning towards the terminal, two firefighting vehicles, which were located on either side of the taxiway, started spraying jets of water to welcome the plane with a water salute ahead of the celebration of the Saudi Arabia National Day on September 23.
The vehicle turret operators selected a water jet with a high kinetic energy to form a far-reaching arc but the fire-fighting vehicle positioned on the left side of the aircraft, Fire 8, experienced a malfunction with the water roof turret, which failed to follow the operator’s input from the hand controller.
The high pressure water jet was suddenly sprayed upwards and then downwards, as the aircraft passed underneath.
The aircraft was struck by the water jet causing the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch to open. The hatch fell into the cabin an this resulted in the deployment of the left over-wing emergency slide ramp.
The flight crew was alerted to the opening of the emergency hatch by the master warning system and stopped the aircraft immediately. However, they were not aware that a water salute had been arranged on arrival at the gate and they were not able to inform the cabin crew or passengers prior to the event.
The Air Accident Investigation Sector has determined the cause of the incident as “the erratic directional movement of the water jet onto the push panel of the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch.”
“This resulted in the emergency exit hatch opening and falling into the cabin, slightly injuring the passenger seated in the window seat,” the report added.
The fire vehicle’s hand controller potentiometer also failed to control the movements of the roof turret and another contributing factor to the incident was the failure in communication.
“The process of a water salute had not been formally described and risk assessed by the airport fire service, thus the possibility of erratic water turret movement was not identified,” the report pointed out.
In a statement sent to Khaleej Times on Wednesday, a Dubai Airports (DXB) spokesperson said: “Dubai Airports confirms that the mechanical failure of the water turret controller on one of its fire trucks resulted in the deployment of an over wing exit chute on an arriving aircraft in September last year.
“Immediately following the incident, and working with the vehicle manufacturer and regulatory authorities, Dubai Airports conducted a thorough inspection of its fleet of fire trucks and reviewed its water salute procedures to ensure the fault was not in evidence elsewhere and to prevent any future recurrence,” DXB added.
The GCAA said the emergency exit hatch and the airframe hatch attachments and mechanism were inspected by a company engineer.
“No damage was found and the emergency exit hatch was refitted. The inflated slide ramp was detached from the aircraft. There was no damage to property, or to the environment,” GCAA reported.
After the incident, the aircraft was towed to the gate with the slide ramp attached, where the passengers disembarked normally.
The injured passenger received medical attention and decided to continue the journey after being medically cleared.
Saudia Airlines flight SV566 departed DXB at 4.22pm on the same day, following a four-hour delay and after the Operator’s Technical Services department issued an engineering authorization, which permitted the operation of the aircraft for one flight without the left over-wing slide ramp fitted.
What is water cannon salute?
Water salutes were initiated for ceremonial purposes and carried out by airport fire services. Water salutes were intended to celebrate inaugural airline flights, final airline services, retirement of respected airline pilots, or other special occasions.
Typically, a water salute involved two or more fire vehicles, perpendicularly parked outside the taxiway, spraying water jets in an arc above a taxiing aircraft. The spray pattern was adjusted to a high velocity, forceful jet, to achieve the necessary spray distance.
Some airport fire services have modified this traditional arrangement. To avoid spraying water onto an aircraft, two fire-fighting vehicles leading the taxiing aircraft and form a moving arc of water ahead.