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Passenger dies, up to 71 injured after Singapore Airlines flight hits severe turbulence

Passenger dies, up to 71 injured after Singapore Airlines flight hits severe turbulence
The interior of Singapore Airline flight SG321 after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21, 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Stringer)

A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.

One passenger died of a suspected heart attack and 30 were injured after a Singapore Airlines flight hit severe turbulence on Tuesday, flinging passengers and crew around the cabin and forcing the plane to land in Bangkok, officials and the airline said. A hospital said it had treated 71 patients. 

The flight from London bound for Singapore fell into an air pocket while cabin crew were serving breakfast before it encountered turbulence, prompting the pilots to request an emergency landing, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport general manager Kittipong Kittikachorn told a press conference.

The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the aircraft to Bangkok, it said without giving further details.

Reuters was not able to confirm the sequence of events or whether the medical emergency came before the turbulence.

Photographs from the interior of the plane showed large gashes in the overhead cabin panels, gas masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and items of hand luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.

“I saw things lying everywhere and many air crew injured” with bruising, Kittikachorn said after the most critically injured passengers and crew had been evacuated.

A 73-year-old British man died during the incident, probably from a heart attack, Kittikachorn said. Seven people were critically injured, some with head injuries. He added people were calm as they were led from the plane.

“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,” the airline said.

Singapore Airlines

Rescue medical teams prepare to move the injured to a hospital near Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Samut Prakan province, Thailand, 21 May 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / NARONG SANGNAK)

Some tallies of the injured out of the 211 passengers and 18 crew differed.

The airline said 18 were hospitalised and 12 were treated in hospitals. Samitivej Hospital said it was treating 71 passengers, including six who were severely injured.

It was not immediately possible to reconstruct the incident from publicly available tracking data, but a spokesperson for FlightRadar 24 said it was analysing data which showed the plane tilting upwards and returning to its cruising altitude over the space of a minute.

A passenger who was on the Boeing 777-300ER plane told Reuters that the incident involved the sensation of rising and then falling.

“Suddenly the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking so I started bracing for what was happening, and very suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing a seatbelt was launched immediately into the ceiling,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters.

“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,” he said.

Kittikachorn said most of the passengers he had spoken to had been wearing their seatbelts.

The spokesperson for FlightRadar 24 said regarding data showing a drop in height, “Our initial thinking is the turbulence event is prior to the standard descent from 37,000 to 31,000 feet. That appears to just be a flight level change in preparation for landing.” 

Turbulence

Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type, according to a 2021 study by the National Transportation Safety Board.

From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.

Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.

Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on 31 October 2000, into construction equipment on the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport after attempting to take off from the wrong runway. The crash killed 83 of the 179 people on board.

Singapore Airlines has had seven accidents according to records by the Aviation Safety Network. DM

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