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One Killed, 30 Injured as Flight Hit by Severe Turbulence

One Killed, 30 Injured as Flight Hit by Severe Turbulence

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NEW DELHI, May 21: In a rare incident, a passenger has been killed and 30 others suffered injuries when a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 hit severe turbulence on a flight from London to Singapore and was forced to make an emergency landing in Bangkok. The death has been confirmed by Singapore Airlines.

Emergency vehicles raced onto the tarmac at the Thai capital’s main airport with lights flashing and sirens blaring after Singapore-bound flight SQ321 touched down at 3:45 pm (0845 GMT).

In a statement, Singapore Airlines said flight number SQ321, which took off from Heathrow Airport in London on Monday and was headed to Singapore, “encountered severe turbulence” en route. The aircraft was diverted to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, where it landed at 3.45 pm (local time) on Tuesday. The plane – a Boeing 777-300 ER – had 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board.

The flight fell into an air pocket while the cabin crew was serving breakfast before it encountered turbulence, prompting the pilots to request an emergency landing, Suvarnabhumi Airport’s General Manager Kittipong Kittikachorn said.

A 73-year-old British man died during the incident, likely due to a heart attack, he said. Seven people were critically injured with head injuries. Offering its condolences to the family of the person who died, the airline said, “We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board the Boeing… Our priority is to provide all possible assistance to all passengers and crew on board the aircraft. We are working with the local authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary medical assistance, and sending a team to Bangkok to provide any additional assistance needed.”

Experts said such injuries usually happen when passengers are not wearing a seatbelt and the pilot has not been able to give an advanced warning because information from the weather radar does not indicate any turbulence. In such cases, passengers can be thrown around in the cockpit which may lead to injuries.

There were little warning of the chaos that was about to be unleashed onboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ321. With around three hours left on the journey from London to Singapore, Malaysian student Dzafran Azmir got the uneasy feeling the Boeing 777-300R plane was tilting upwards and beginning to shake.

The 28-year-old braced himself and checked he had his seatbelt on. He did. Many of the other passengers did not, he said. “Suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing seatbelt was launched immediately into the ceiling, some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it, they hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it,” Azmir said. “People dropped to the ground, my phone flew out of my hand and went a couple aisles to the side, people’s shoes flung about,” he added.

“The crew and people inside lavatories were hurt the most because we discovered people just on the ground not able to get up. There were a lot of spinal and head injuries,” Azmir said. The captain informed passengers they would be making an emergency landing in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

Once the plane was on the tarmac, nurses and rescue workers came in to check on the injured, Azmir said. “I don’t think they anticipated how bad it was,” he said.

Ambulances later arrived and Azmir said he saw at least 8 people on stretchers being pulled out of the emergency exits. It took 90 minutes to evacuate the plane, he said.

The carrier said “18 individuals have been hospitalised. Another 12 are being treated in hospitals,” without giving details of the nature and severity of the injuries. “We deeply apologise for the traumatic experience that our passengers and crew members suffered on this flight. We are providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time,” the airline said.

Flight tracking data suggested the plane dropped more than 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) in just five minutes over the Andaman Sea.  The incident came as parts of Thailand were buffeted by thunderstorms as the country’s annual rainy season gets under way.

“At 3:35 pm the airport received a distress call from the Singapore Airlines flight saying there were passengers on board injured by turbulence, and requesting an emergency landing,” Suvarnabhumi Airport said in a statement. “The plane landed at the airport and the medical team was sent to treat all the injured.”

(Manas Dasgupta)


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