- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

SYDNEY (AP) - A passenger plane landed safely Friday after one of its two propellers fell off in a near disaster as the plane approached Sydney Airport.

The Regional Express Airlines crew reported the right engine propeller assembly separated from the Saab 340 airliner 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of the airport, Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson said.

“Our propeller has just sheared off but normal controls. Still able to fly,” one of the two pilots said in a radio call broadcast by media.

Flight 768 was carrying 16 passengers and three crew from Albury, 500 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Sydney.

“Not just the propeller, but the shaft that connects it into the engine have all come off and the assembly has fallen away to the ground,” Gibson said.

“This is very, very, very unusual. It happens very, very rarely,” he added.

Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association president Paul Cousin said he had been told the pilot felt vibration then looked out to see the propeller break off.

The rapidly spinning parts could have sliced into the fuselage and tail plane as they fell behind, he said.

“They were within a whisker of a catastrophic event,” Cousin said.

“When that propeller let go, they were lucky in the extreme that it sent itself over the top of the wing without doing much damage,” he added.

One pilot made a pan pan call. That indicates an urgent situation that is not immediately life-threatening but requires assistance from the ground. Pan pan indicates a lesser emergency than a mayday alert.

The Sydney-based airline said in a statement that the crew had followed standard operating procedures and the plane had landed “normally and on time.”

Australian Transport Safety Bureau urged anyone who finds propeller parts not to handle them but to alert police. The bureau said in a statement it was sending an accident investigation team.

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