We went to Riyadh last night following the end of a 36 hour sandstorm caused by a front moving through. Thunderstorms all over to the south and east of Riyadh, it must have been quite a day.
Approach control advised us that the normal landing on 33R was not possible due to a disabled aircraft on the runway. OK, landed on 33L which is fine but a mile and a half farther away. As we taxied across 33R we could see lights and a silhouette of what looked like a 737 down the runway, right on the centerline.
After kicking our passengers off we got the story.
The night before the wind kicked up as several CB’s passed overhead, several airplanes jumped their chocks and were damaged. The 737 in question had jumped their chocks as well but didn’t hit anything, after looking at the tire marks the crew concluded it had spun 240 degrees throughout the storm. The airplane was covered in dust even though it had rained during the thunderstorm. The crew opened the engine cowlings to check for damage and get the sand out, they also swept out the intake and exhaust then even used a vacuum cleaner to get as much out as possible.
After that exercise they put a full load of fuel on, started the APU and motored the engines to blow as much sand and water out as possible. That went well so they started and taxied over to the Royal Gate which is about 10 minutes away. At about 3PM local time they had a handful of passengers on board so off they go.
Everything is normal up to the time they rotated when the #2 engine started to compressor stall, surge and over temp. The Captain asked the F/O (who was on his second flight with the company) to try to get the temp down by reducing the throttle. Nothing worked. At about 2-300 feet the #1 engine started to do the same thing. Now the book goes out the window and it’s time to get as much out of both engines as possible. If you’ve never been in a larger airplane this is called radar power, push the throttles up against the radar screen and to hell with the limits. They got enough power to not sink and to keep enough airspeed to not stall. But that was it.
Well, they had just enough power to stay at 300 feet and circle back for a landing. The Captain said he lost the airport for a few seconds off in the dust and sand but had a good idea of where the runway was. Rolling out on final there was the runway right where it should have been. At touchdown both engines seized up, with no thrust reverse and a way over weight landing he had to get on the brakes asap. About 6000 feet down the runway the left brakes locked up and caught fire. As I said earlier he stopped it right on the centerline after circling at 300 feet with 3000 meters of official visibility.
Yup, we know the guys and yes I’ve done it in the sim although it’s usually a complete double engine failure climbing out of 10,000 feet while the instructor says “just fly around, I’ve got paperwork to catch up on”.
I am just a lowly 172 pilot but I was a mechanic on C141s in the AF.
Don’t you turbine pilots think that the captain should have rejected the AC if they were sucking sand out of the engines with a vacuum?
Under the circumstances, It seems like it would have been the right call.
After several hours and several people cleaning, vacuuming, blowing etc. they thought they had everything. There is only so much you can do.
And it’s the only airplane they have.
I’ve lived in the Middle East for 13 years and I’ve never seen anybody vacuum sand before. I’d say they went overboard.
And to be fair, what I wrote was based on the first report so facts could change. We don’t know why the engines failed, could have nothing to do with the sand storm.
Sure, most likely sand was the cause.
What else would anybody suggest doing to clean out the engines? Keep in mind aircraft were taking off and landing continuously the whole time without any problem, including ones that had spent the night.
As I said this is the only airplane these guys have so rejecting this one and dragging another one out of the hangar is not an option.