Emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi: Turbulence on flight kills 1
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Emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi: Turbulence on flight kills 1

30 people injured, 7 critically, after Singapore Airlines flight encounters ‘severe turbulence’ over Irrawaddy Basin

The damaged interior of the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER that encountered severe turbulence over Thailand is pictured after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)
The damaged interior of the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER that encountered severe turbulence over Thailand is pictured after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)

A Singapore Airlines flight that made an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday had fallen into an air pocket before it encountered turbulence, with one man killed and seven people critically injured on board, a senior airport official said.

A 73-year-old British man died during the incident, likely due to a heart attack, while head injuries were sustained among seven people critically injured, said Suvarnabhumi general manager Kittipong Kittikachorn. One crew member was admitted to hospital, he added.

The plane “looks okay from the outside but inside it’s a mess”, he said.

Flight SQ321 was en route from London to Singapore when it encountered “sudden extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy Basin at 37,000 feet about 10 hours after departure”, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the aircraft to Bangkok, and landed at 1545hrs local time.

“We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board the Boeing 777-300ER. There were a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board.”

In an update posted at 7.50pm the carrier said: “18 individuals have been hospitalised. Another 12 are being treated in hospitals. The remaining passengers and crew are being examined and given treatment, where necessary, at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.”

The nationalities and injuries of those in hospital were not specified in the update.

There were no Thai passengers on the flight, according to information released on Tuesday night by the airline. It said the nationalities of the passengers were as follows: 56 from Australia, 2 from Canada, 1 from Germany, 3 from India, 2 from Indonesia, 1 from Iceland, 4 from Ireland, 1 from Israel, 16 from Malaysia, 2 from Myanmar, 23 from New Zealand, 5 from the Philippines, 41 from Singapore, 1 from South Korea, 2 from Spain, 47 from the UK and 4 from the United States.

According to Flight Aware data, Flight SQ321 departed London Heathrow at 10.38pm local time on Monday and landed at Bangkok’s main international airport at 3.45pm.

Airports of Thailand, the operator of Suvarnabhumi, said it put its emergency protocol into action after flight controllers received a request from the pilot of the SIA plane.

More than 10 ambulances were mobilised to help transport injured passengers from the airport to Samitivej Hospital, according to local media reports.

Data on Flight Radar 24, a website that compiles public information about flights, appears to show that about 11 hours after it departed London, the plane went from cruising at 37,000 feet to roughly 31,000 feet in only a few minutes.

Little warning

There was little warning of the chaos that was about to be unleashed onboard, passenger Dzafran Azmir said.

With around three hours left on the journey from London to Singapore, the Malaysian student got the uneasy feeling that the 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 told Reuters.

“Suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing a 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 of 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 Bangkok.

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

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

Fatalities are extremely rare in incidents of turbulence, especially at cruising altitudes. The airline has not yet provided details of the accident. Carriers routinely caution passengers to keep their seat belts fastened even when the seat belt sign has been switched off, as unforeseen turbulence may occur.

“Singapore Airlines offers its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. 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.

“We are working with our colleagues and the local authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary assistance. A Singapore Airlines team is on the way to Bangkok to provide any additional assistance needed.”

Investigators from Singapore were en route to Bangkok, the government of the city-state said.

“The Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is in touch with its Thai counterparts and will be deploying investigators to Bangkok,” the transport ministry said in a statement.

The aircraft operating flight SQ321 was 16 years old, and is one 23 Boeing 777-300ER jets in the SIA fleet.

The last time fatalities occurred on Singapore Airlines was in October 2000 when a plane crashed on a closed runway during takeoff in Taiwan and 83 people died.

The carrier has had 7 accidents in its history, according to records by the Aviation Safety Network.

The airline has set up a hotline for relatives seeking information at +65-6542-3311.

The interior of the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER is pictured after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)

Ambulances and rescue vehicles are parked next to a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Samut Prakan on Tuesday afternoon.

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