The crew of a FedEx MD-10 made an emergency landing after multiple cargo deck fire indications. Also, this is a freighter with some history.
This incident happened on Tuesday the 7th of June 2022. It involved flight FX-463, a regular morning service between Sacramento International (KSMF) and Memphis International (KMEM) in the United States. On this particular flight, there were three crew members on board the aircraft.
The crew of the FedEx MD-10 departed uneventfully from Sacramento, using runway 34L, climbing to FL310 in cruise. About two hours and twenty minutes into the flight, they were most of the way to Memphis. But this is when the flight’s crew decided to divert to Tulsa International Airport (KTUL) in Oklahoma.
FedEx MD-10 – It’s Actually On Fire
The FedEx crew decided to divert because they got a fire indication in the cargo bay of their MD-10. But they were quite close to Tulsa, so they had to get some track miles before they could land. And it was during this time that the crew got another cargo fire alert, this time in the aft cargo area. Two separate alerts immediately suggested that this was unlikely to be a false alarm.
About 18 minutes after leaving their cruise altitude, the flight crew landed safely in Tulsa, using runway 18L. Fire and emergency crews were waiting for them, as they landed. The tower controller informed the crew that they could not see any smoke. But the emergency services reported that they could see a heat signature in the FedEx MD-10.
Upon receiving this news, the crew decided to evacuate. The controllers in Tulsa closed both runways for half an hour, informing several aircraft that this was an actual fire emergency. Multiple flights were diverted elsewhere as a result. Eventually, fire crews managed to put the fire under control, allowing the aircraft to be towed to the apron. At this time, the extent of the damage to the aircraft is still unclear. As of this writing, it remains on the ground in Tulsa.
Some Disturbing History
This isn’t the first time that this FedEx MD-10 has seen serious drama. However, when it last made the news, it wasn’t an MD-10 yet. This is N306FE, which started out as a DC-10-30F, entering service thirty-six and a half years ago. The airline calls it ‘John’. It is this aircraft that was involved in an attempted hijacking in April 1994, as Federal Express flight 705.
In this event, a dead-heading airline employee attempted to overcome the three flight crew, to take control and crash the aircraft. The crew fought the attacker, Auburn R. Calloway, and brought him under control. But in the process, he had injured them severely enough that the two pilots couldn’t fly commercially again. He did this by using hammers and spearguns, that he had smuggled on board.
In the same event, the FedEx Captain had to put the MD-10 (then DC-10) into some unusual attitudes, to try to unbalance the attacker. The aircraft had to undergo detailed checks and repairs but remained in service. Calloway got a lifetime jail sentence for his actions.
Like all seven former DC-10s that FedEx still flies today, this aircraft underwent conversion to an MD-10. This means that its three-crew cockpit underwent a transformation, mirroring the two-crew of the MD-11. And this means that its crews can fly both MD-10s and MD-11s on the same type rating. In the fire incident on June 7th, there were three crew members on board. So perhaps one crew member was deadheading, or this was a training flight.