Passengers on flight D7237 en route to Kuala Lumpur have told how they heard a bang and looked out the window to see the left engine vibrating violently under the wing.

The aircraft started shuddering and a strong engine smell wafted through the cabin for a couple of minutes before the pilot made a U-turn to head back to Perth Airport.

With terrified passengers in the “brace position”, the aircraft landed safely at 10am, three hours after it had initially departed.

The Captain asked everyone to remain seated and announced the plane would return to Perth.

Passengers were reminded of safety procedures and they practised the brace position for landing during the slow journey back to Perth as emergency services waited anxiously on the ground.

Paramedics, fire crews and police officers gathered at Perth Airport, while water police and marine rescue volunteers along the WA coast were on alert in case the aircraft crashed into the ocean.

After the plane landed safely, a fire engine following it down the runway, everyone on board applauded the pilots.

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“The Captain did a very good job, he was reassuring and then we landed safely, that’s the most important thing,” a passenger said.

After the plane had landed and ground crews checked the aircraft, passengers were told it appeared a blade had sheared off the left engine.

But Australia’s crash and regulatory watchdogs will want to know why the pilots of the A330 did not divert to Learmonth, just 25 minutes away, rather than fly the 90 minutes back to Perth.

Air Asia has issued a statement saying: “We are investigating the technical issue — there is no indication its an engine issue.”

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