Nearly three months after its main cargo door flew open in flight, a DHL 757 freighter flew again yesterday! But it’s not going back to service yet.
The incident happened on the 13th of February this year. A DHL Boeing 757 freighter had just taken off from 26L in Leipzig (EDDP), in Germany. It was performing flight QY-126, to Frankfurt/Main Airport. As the aircraft passed 5,000 feet in the climb, the main cargo door swung open! Thankfully the aircraft’s structure stayed intact. However, it appears that parts from the interior surface of the door itself detached, hitting a factory.
The cargo door of such freighters forms part of the structure of the aircraft. When crews open it on the ground, the aircraft should not move, for structural reasons. So after the 757’s door burst open in flight, the DHL crew needed to get back on the ground FAST. In addition to the now-compromised structure of the aircraft, if the door detached completely it could damage the jet’s tail.
The DHL 757 Crew’s Actions And Aftermath Of The In-Flight Event
The crew wasted no time. With the door open in-flight, they turned the DHL 757 around and landed it at the reciprocal (opposite end of the) runway. Winds were only 4kts straight along the runway. Having spent just 17 minutes in the air, the stricken Boeing rolled to a stop about 1,500 metres down the runway. Ground crews eventually moved it to the apron.
With the crew safely on the ground, the priority then was to understand how this happened. The DHL 757 was not the first freighter to experience such an in-flight incident with an open door. In 2014, a Yakutia 757 freighter experienced an eerily similar incident. On that occasion, ice and/or snow had accumulated in the door locking mechanism. Investigators believed that the frozen water short-circuited actuators (that should have had no power) to unlock and open the door.
At this time, we don’t know if the cause of the DHL 757 in-flight open door, was the same. There was plenty of snow in Leipzig, as we can see in the pictures. In any case, the future of the 757 freighter came in to question after this incident. Given the direct role the door has in keeping the aircraft’s structure intact, such an in-flight event could warp or otherwise distort the airframe.
An Encouraging (?) Precedent
However, the Yakutia 757 DID fly again, for a good 5 years after its own mishap. This showed that it was likely possible for the DHL 757 to re-enter service after its own in-flight adventure, too. However DHL’s plane is older, at just over 29 years at this time. And with newer jets entering service, we didn’t know if such a repair would make financial sense – if it’s possible.
Well, we got our answer yesterday. DHL’s 757, registration G-DHKZ, made a repositioning flight, from Leipzig to Budapest (LHBP). The aircraft will likely undergo more repairs there. It climbed no higher than 10,000 feet in its 1hr 22min flight, suggesting that it had no pressurization.
Once again, the 757s are proving to be a tough nut to crack. We obviously don’t know how many years of service this plane has in its wings. But clearly, DHL (or someone else) must believe that it can still earn a living, after covering the cost of repairs for its in-flight open door adventure.