On 22 November 2003, shortly after takeoff from Baghdad, Iraq, an Airbus A300 cargo plane owned by European Air Transport ("DHL") was struck on the left wing tip by a surface-to-air missile. Severe wing damage resulted in a fire and complete loss of hydraulic flight control systems. Because outboard left wing fuel tank 1A was full at takeoff, there was no fuel-air vapour explosion. Liquid jet fuel dropped away as 1A disintegrated. Inboard fuel tank 1 was pierced and leaking.

Returning to Baghdad, the 3-man crew made an injury-free landing of the crippled aircraft, using differential engine thrust as the only pilot input. This is despite major damage to a wing, total loss of hydraulic control, a faster than safe landing speed and a ground path which veered off the runway surface and onto unprepared ground.[1]

Paris Match Reporter Claudine Vernier-Palliez accompanied a Fedayeen commando unit on their strike mission against the DHL aircraft. Template:Citation needed

Sara Daniel, a French weekly newsmagazine journalist claimed receipt, from an unknown source, of a video that showed insurgents, faces concealed, firing a missile at the A300.Template:Citation needed Daniel was researching a feature about Iraqi resistance groups but she disclaimed any specific knowledge of the people who carried out the attack, despite being present at the moment of attack.Template:Citation needed

Destination and crewEdit

The aircraft took off from Baghdad International Airport en route to Bahrain International Airport at 06:30 UTC with an experienced crew of three: two Belgians, Captain Eric Gennotte and First Officer Steeve Michielsen, and a Scot, flight engineer Mario Rofail.

Moments following the strikeEdit

To reduce exposure to ground attack, the aircraft was executing a rapid climbout. At about 8,000 feet (2,450 metres), a 9K34 Strela-3 (SA-14 Gremlin) surface-to-air missile struck the left wing tip. The warhead damaged trailing edge surfaces and structure and caused a fire. All three hydraulic systems lost pressure and flight controls were disabled. The aircraft pitched rapidly up and down in a roller-coaster phugoid, oscillating between a nose-up and a nose-down position, trying to re-establish the angle of attack from which it was disturbed.

As in the case of the 1989 United Airlines Flight 232 disaster in the USA, Captain Gennotte could only use thrust to modify pitch, speed and altitude and vary throttles asymmetrically to control yaw and turn the aircraft. Flight engineer Mario Rofail executed a gravity drop to extend the landing gear, a procedure normally accomplished with hydraulic power. Early deployment of the gear was critical to a safe outcome because increased drag helped reduce speed and stabilize the Airbus.

In about 10 minutes of experimentation, the crew learned to manage turns, climbs and descents. After a meandering trajectory, they executed a right turn and initiated a descent path to Baghdad International Airport.

Final approach and emergency landingEdit



Because of left wing damage and fuel loss, Rofail had to monitor the engine closely. If fuel flow was lost from the left side, the flight engineer would have to feed fuel from a right tank without losing thrust. Crew survival was dependent on accurate power control of each jet engine.

Gennotte and Michielsen set up for a final approach to runway 33R. Because the aircraft drifted to the right, away from the intended course, Gennotte decided to use the shorter 33L runway. Visibility was excellent and the pilots managed a controlled descent. They knew that, counter-intuitively, they could not retard throttles before touchdown without risking the nose or a wing smashing disastrously into the ground.

At about 400 feet (120 meters) turbulence upset the aircraft balance and the right wing dipped. With thrust adjustments, the roll was controlled but the aircraft touched down off the runway centerline. Rofail immediately deployed full reverse thrust but the Airbus veered off the paved runway. Running through rough soft ground, throwing up a huge plume of sand and dragging a razor wire barrier, the aircraft stopped after about 1,000 meters.

Awards and aftermathEdit

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators jointly honored crewmembers with the Gordon-Burge Memorial Award.[2] This is awarded to flight crew whose action contributed outstandingly by saving their aircraft or passengers, or made a significant contribution to future air safety. This annual award is made only if a nomination is considered to be of significant merit.

The Flight Safety Foundation's FSF Professionalism Award in Flight Safety was presented to the crewmembers for their “extraordinary piloting skills in flying their aircraft to a safe landing after a missile strike following takeoff from Baghdad, Iraq.[3]

In May 2006, Captain Eric Gennotte, together with Armand Jacob, an Airbus experimental test pilot, gave a presentation to the Toulouse branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society titled “Landing an A300 Successfully Without Flight Controls”.

In addition to severe wing and undercarriage damage, both jet engines suffered ruinous abuse by ingesting debris. The already aging aircraft has not flown again. The aircraft is still in Baghdad airport. [4]

The incident became widely discussed. For Mario Rofail, the flight engineer, it was a point on which to retire.


The story of the incident was featured on the third season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US, Mayday in Ireland and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and the rest of world). The episode is entitled "Attack Over Baghdad".

See alsoEdit


  1. "Air Crash Investigators"
  2. The Gordon-Burge Memorial Award - GAPAN
  3. FSF Professionalism Award in Flight Safety | Flight Safety Foundation

External linksEdit

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