Accidental Emergency Slide Deployment Delays Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747

Over the weekend, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400’s emergency slide unintentionally deployed at Manchester Airport. This took place just as the catering service vehicle was pulling up to the aircraft. The incident ended up causing delays for flight VS75 with service to Orlando – arriving four hours and 54 minutes late.

Accidental Emergency Slide Deployment Delays Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747
A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, like the one pictured here, was involved in the February 15 incident. Photo: Getty Images

According to a report by Aviation24.be, the aircraft door in question was either not properly disarmed or it suffered a malfunction with its slide system. This caused the emergency slide to deploy. The incident was captured on video and can be seen in the Twitter post below:

Virgin Atlantic responded to our request for comment saying:

“On 15th February, the VS75 from Manchester to Orlando was delayed due to an inadvertent slide deployment. The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority and no customers were onboard the aircraft at the time. We’d like to apologise for the delay and inconvenience caused.”

The incident involved a 747-400 with the registration G-VAST. According to Airfleets, this aircraft is over 22 years old and has been with the airline since coming out of the Boeing factory in 1997. It is powered by four GE CF-6 engines.

Arming and disarming doors

It’s something all passengers hear with every flight before take-off: Arm doors and cross-check. Then, at landing, and just before parking, that order to the flight attendants is reversed: Disarm doors and cross-check. The order has a few variations and sometimes passengers will hear “arm/disarm slides”, “prepare doors for departure/arrival”, or “doors to automatic/manual”.

The crosscheck part of the command is a generic term for crew directing one person to verify the task of another. Ask The Pilot says that, for the cabin, “flight attendants crosscheck one another’s stations to make sure the doors are armed or disarmed as necessary”.

Accidental Emergency Slide Deployment Delays Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747
An Asiana Airlines Airbus A320 aircraft is seen with its slides deployed. Slides must deploy quickly for emergency situations in order to evacuate passengers. Photo: Getty Images

These actions taken by the flight attendants are what activate and deactivate the emergency slide system as it is linked to the opening of the aircraft door. For commercial aircraft, linking the deployment of slides to the opening of doors is meant to ensure a fast and safe exit from the plane in an emergency situation.

Therefore, in a normal boarding and de-boarding situation, this mechanism must be turned off so that the door can open up to stairs or a jetbridge. Slides can still be deployed when doors are disarmed. But this has to be done manually.

Slide deployment by water cannon

This recent incident with Virgin Atlantic’s 747 isn’t the first time a slide has unintentionally deployed. In fact, it also happened in 2018 when a water cannon salute was the trigger for deployment. This incident involved a Saudia A320 arriving at Dubai International. The incident can be seen here:

According to the Khaleej Times report on the investigation’s findings, the vehicle turret operators selected a water jet with high pressure in order to form a far-reaching arc. However, the fire-fighting vehicle positioned on the left side of the aircraft experienced a malfunction with the water roof turret. The malfunction resulted in the water cannon not responding to the operator’s input to the hand controller.

As a result, the high-pressure water jet was suddenly sprayed upwards and then downwards, striking the aircraft and causing the left forward over-wing emergency exit hatch to open. With the immense water pressure, the hatch fell into the cabin, resulting in the deployment of the emergency slide.

Conclusion

Accidental slide deployments are not only embarrassing for the airline but are a costly occurrence due to the time it requires to reset the slide. Passengers are inconvenienced and flight schedules need to be adjusted.

Have you ever seen an emergency slide deploy in-person? Let us know in the comments.

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