Fire Warning at top of descent at Athens

ap-axg

AP-AXG

 

On June 18, 1985:

  • Sector KHI-ATH (Karachi-Athens)
  • Departure and arrival at 0540Z and 1135Z,*respectively

*UTC

  • Aircraft: B707-340C
  • Registration: AP-AWY, freighter 
  • Call sign Pakistan Eight Zero Five.
  • Routing via Dubai–Bahrain–Damascus–Nicosia.

This flight was flown with First Officer Yousaf Mamsa (deceased in attack on Pearl Continental Hotel, Peshawar during recent unrest in Pakistan) and Flight Engineer Hamid Mahmood. There was a flight attendant present. The aircraft maintenance log had an entry of a fire warning discrepancy on departure.

At top of descent (TOD) near Athens, the fire warning bell sounded with associated warning light on # 4 engine; the engines are numbered from left to right meaning # 4 is the extreme right engine viewed from the cockpit and invisible to me from the left seat. The engine was visually checked by first officer for smoke or any sign of fire through the cockpit side window, and I observed the engine parameters on the panel in front me. There was no vibration. We had already discussed between ourselves the action to be followed in case the fire warning came on (myself, flight engineer and first officer), and I had told them of my intention to treat it as a fire warning. According to our airline procedures (Flight Operations Manual), this necessitated shutting down the engine and firing the fire extinguishers (two extinguisher bottles). This was done as prescribed by regulations, and the two cockpit crew were briefed by me prior to landing; the first officer told to neutralize the rudder trim before landing on my call, full flaps to be used when committed to land and the overshoot procedure discussed.

Athens Air Traffic Control had been notified earlier at the time of occurrence and the Tower now wanted to confirm if we were declaring an emergency. I replied negative, adding that this was to be a normal landing. Company was notified on their VHF channel and informed about the maintenance squawk.
It was broad daylight, past noon and the landing was normal on Runway 33R, though I did feel that the aircraft was heavy and required power on the 3-engine Instrument Landing System Approach (ILS), and associated care with the rudder once the rudder trim came off. This was taught in the regular 6 monthly simulator checks.

Our handling agent, Mr. Thannasis Dimitriu, a local resident of Athens later told me that newspapers next morning carried a story about a PIA aircraft declaring an emergency at Athens the previous day and being provided all the necessary ground support in the form of fire trucks standing by at the runway. We both had a good laugh at this dramatization. The crew performed their roles flawlessly and I am grateful for the support provided by them.

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