MANILA, Philippines — The 346 passengers were cruising at 29,000 feet Friday when an explosive bang shook the Qantas jumbo jet. The plane descended rapidly. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling as debris flew through the cabin from a hole that had suddenly appeared in the floor.
It wasn't until they were safely on the ground after an emergency landing that they realized how lucky they had been: A hole the size of a small car had been ripped into the Boeing 747-400's metal skin and penetrated the fuselage.
The eerie scene aboard Flight QF 30, captured on a passenger's cell phone camera, showed a tense quiet punctuated by a baby's cries as passengers sat with oxygen masks on their faces. The jerky footage showed a woman holding tightly to the seat in front of her as rapidly approaching land appeared through a window. Loud applause and relieved laughter went up as the plane touched down.
There were no injuries and only a few cases of nausea, officials said. An official of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said initial reports indicated no link to terrorism. Investigators appeared to be focusing on a structural problem.
The passengers, on a flight from London to Melbourne, had just been served a meal after a stopover in Hong Kong when they described hearing a loud bang and felt their ears popping as air rushed out the hole. The pilots put the plane into a quick descent to 10,000 feet, where the atmosphere is still thin but breathable.
"One hour into the flight there was a big bang, then the plane started going down," said passenger Marina Scaffidi, 39, from Melbourne. She said a hole extended from the cargo hold into the passenger cabin but "no one was very hysterical."
Amazingly calm, in fact. Video footage showed people looking almost as if nothing was wrong as they glanced from side to side, their nearly untouched meals still in front of them. The cabin crew continued to work, smiling as they walked down the aisles.
After the plane touched down, one of the pilots could be heard saying over the intercom: "Fire vehicles and emergency vehicles are going to take a look at us."
What they found was a stunning sight. A 9-foot-wide hole gaped at the joint where the front of the right wing attaches to the plane.