The French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis (BEA) released a documentary on an unusual aviation safety operation. The investigators had to extract an Airbus A380 engine fan hub from the ices of Greenland after an Air France flight suffered an uncontained engine failure in September 2017.

The incident

On September 30, 2017, an Air France A380 registered F-HPJE was carrying out flight AF066 from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The aircraft was carrying 497 passengers and 24 crew members. 

About five hours into the flight, as the plane had just crossed the southern tip of Greenland and was southeast of Nuuk when a fan and inlet separated from the engine number four, a GP7200 built by Engine Alliance (a consortium of General Electric and Pratt & Whitney).

The A380 landed two hours later at the Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay (YYR) without any injuries or further events.

The conclusion of a 21-month search

Greenland being part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it was the Danish Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB DK) that delegated the investigation to the French BEA. To operate in the extreme cold of Greenland, the BEA received the help of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS).

After spending 13 weeks to locate the part, using both aerial and ground scanning, and a plethora of innovative drones, the task of the GEUS was to extract the fan hub weighing 150 kilograms (330 pounds) from under 4 meters of snow and ice while being surrounded by dangerous crevasses.

The extraction was documented by Arnar Ingi Gunnarsson.

The first meter of snow was dug out by hand and chainsaws. The second and third and a half meter would be removed the same way, except a ramp would be used to remove the excess snow and ice. The final few centimeters were melted using a heater. The total operation took 30 hours. 

The part was then transported from the extraction site by helicopter and eventually sent to Pratt & Whitney’s facilities in the United States to be examined by the BEA.