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Thursday, July 31, 2008 - Page updated at 09:26 AM

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Official: Jet lost flight instruments after blast

A packed Qantas jetliner lost the use of crucial flight instruments after an explosion aboard the aircraft last week blasted a large hole in its fuselage, an air safety investigator said Wednesday.

Associated Press Writer

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An airline mechanic walks past the damaged right wing fuselage of a Qantas Airways Boeing 747-400 passenger plane following an emergency landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday July 25, 2008 in Manila, Philippines.

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BULLIT MARQUEZ / AP

An airline mechanic walks past the damaged right wing fuselage of a Qantas Airways Boeing 747-400 passenger plane following an emergency landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday July 25, 2008 in Manila, Philippines.

CANBERRA, Australia —

A packed Qantas jetliner lost the use of crucial flight instruments after an explosion aboard the aircraft last week blasted a large hole in its fuselage, an air safety investigator said Wednesday.

The explosion last Friday during a flight from London to Melbourne forced the pilots of the Boeing 747 to rapidly descend thousands of feet and make an emergency landing in the Philippines. No one was injured in the blast or during the descent.

Investigators have found that the jet's three landing instrument systems and its antiskid system were not working when they arrived in Manila, said Julian Walsh, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's director of aviation safety.

But he told reporters the jumbo jet's main systems, including engines and hydraulics, were functioning normally.

Walsh said the pilots did not use the flight instruments to land the plane. If the pilots were not able to land under so-called visual flight rules, he said, they had other navigation systems that they could have used.

But another bureau investigator, Ian Brokenshire, told The Associated Press later that the failed instruments would have made landing "extremely difficult" if conditions over Manila had been cloudy or foggy.

Walsh did not say what caused the failures.

The explosion sent shrapnel through the floor of the passenger cabin and sheared off a door handle, but there was no risk of the door coming off, authorities said.

The shrapnel's trajectory added new details to the frantic moments that followed what investigators suspect was an oxygen tank explosion aboard the jet.

The shrapnel came to rest in the cabin ceiling after it sheared off part of the door handle and knocked it half-way out of position, Walsh said.

But he said "there was never any danger of the door opening" because it is designed never to be opened in flight.

The jumbo jet with 365 people aboard was flying at 29,000 feet when the explosion occurred in the cargo bay, rupturing the fuselage and causing rapid decompression in the cabin.

The Australian bureau, which is investigating the incident with U.S. and Philippine authorities, will release a preliminary report in a month, Walsh said.

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