Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 11:47 UK

Fragments found on Qantas plane

Staff inspect damage under the aircraft
Engineers have begun inspecting the damaged plane in Manila

Australian safety officials have found fragments of a missing oxygen tank from a Qantas plane which was forced to make an emergency landing on Friday.

The discovery appears to strengthen a theory that a large hole in the fuselage was caused by a mid-flight explosion of an oxygen tank.

But officials caution that it is still too early to say what caused the blast.

The plane, which was flying to Melbourne, was forced to land in the Philippines on Friday.

Passengers reported a loud bang and then rapid decompression of the cabin, forcing the plane to lose altitude rapidly.

None of the 365 passengers and crew were injured.

Qantas has been told to inspect every oxygen bottle on its Boeing 747 fleet.

'No evidence of explosives'

Philippine bomb-sniffing dogs have already gone through the cargo hold and found no indication of explosives, and there was also no evidence of bomb residues.

But on Sunday investigators said a back-up oxygen cylinder - kept near the damaged area - was found to be missing from the aircraft.

On Monday they found fragments thought to be from this cylinder.

Planes are pressurised as cruising altitudes are freezing and lack sufficient oxygen to breathe
Hole causes decompression, rapidly reducing air pressure and risking exposure
Oxygen masks are deployed and pilot makes emergency descent to breathable altitude

"There has been a number of small parts recovered from inside the aircraft cabin, including part of the oxygen cylinder valve," Neville Blyth, lead investigator from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, told a news conference.

"It is likely that that valve is from the missing cylinder," he said, adding that further tests were needed.

When asked by the French news agency AFP whether the cylinder could have been blown out of the aircraft, creating the hole in the fuselage, he said: "That is possible, yes."

A preliminary report on the findings should be released in two to three months.

Passengers described hearing a large bang and feeling a rush of wind and debris through the cabin about an hour after Flight QF30 left Hong Kong at 0900 local time (0100 GMT) on Friday.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the aircraft made an emergency descent from 29,000ft to 10,000ft before stabilising.

It said initial information indicated that a section of the fuselage had separated in the area of the forward cargo compartment.

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