Pilot asking passengers to pray – right move in an emergency?

KUALA LUMPUR, 29 June 2017: 

Pilots have been trained comprehensively to be mentally prepared including to pray, during an emergency, say aviation experts.

They opined the request by AirAsia X D7237 pilot for the 359 people on board to pray after the Airbus A330-300 experienced engine trouble was not wrong – but in fact part of the practice by pilots to calm down passengers and control the situation.

Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) test pilot Prof Dr Mohd Harridon Mohamed Suffian said not all scenarios could be trained in the flight simulators or real planes as each situation was unique – and praying was among the options for any pilot.

“In dealing with an ordeal that the pilot had not undergone during training or simulation, mental preparation is necessary including praying.

“In fact from the psychological aspect, praying will provide mental preparation for us. In the aspect of religion, we are indeed called to rely on God as anything could happen in a situation.”

Mohd Harridon was commenting on the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight from Perth which was forced to turn back 90 minutes into the journey after the aircraft encountered technical difficulties over the airspace near Carnarvon on the Western Australia coast.

The pilot had been criticised by former minister and DAP member Datuk Zaid Ibrahim for asking passengers to pray for their safety.

Meanwhile, former Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) investigating officer Capt Abdul Rahmat Omar Tun Mohd Haniff said praying during flight was nothing unusual.

In fact, he noted, many airline companies – including British Airways (haj and umrah chartered flights) – would switch on a video recording of the ‘doa musafir’ (Muslim traveller’s prayer) before take off.

“Usually, those who questioned the necessity for ‘doa’ (prayer) are people with no religion.”

On the technical problem encountered by the plane, he said an Airbus A330 could take off, cruise and land with just one engine even if the other engine was shut down.

“In the case of AirAsia X’s Flight D7 237, one of the turbine’s blades broke and hit the oil pump, damaging the hydraulic system before being ‘swallowed’ by the engine. Any other damage to the engine is not known.

“The unbalanced propeller blades caused severe vibration to the aircraft frame and the next action was for the pilot to turn the engine off and turn back.

“However, although the intensity of the vibration slightly decreased in the next two hours, the ‘windmill effect’ still persisted because the propeller blades were being powered by the wind as the aircraft moved forward.”

Abdul Rahmat said because of imbalance, another phenomenon known as dynamic spillage would form an air cone in front of the engine against the air that was pushed backwards by the thrust.

He said such a situation might cause ‘mounting bolt fatigue’ that could detach the engine, in which case, the imbalance could be catastrophic.

“The pilot was fully aware of this and told the passengers that the situation in the flight deck was under control but that they could also pray for safety.”

Another aviation expert said pilots had been trained and would do the needful to assure and calm passengers in any kind of situation.

“If not handled properly, the situation would deteriorate on landing or during the emergency evacuation at the airport.

“In cases such as this, every airline has a standard operating procedure, to maintain calm in the cockpit, among the passengers and so on. Praying is one of the steps.”

– Bernama

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