Singapore Airlines flight: One dead and dozens injured after severe disturbances

BANGKOK (AP) — A Singapore Airlines plane ran into severe turbulence over the Indian Ocean and plunged to 6,000 feet (about 1,800 meters) in about three minutes, the carrier said Tuesday. A British man died, and authorities said dozens of passengers were injured, some seriously.

An airport official said the 73-year-old man may have had a heart attack, although this has not been confirmed. His name was not immediately revealed.

The Boeing 777 flight was diverted from London Heathrow Airport to Singapore, carrying 211 passengers and 18 crew, and landed in stormy weather in Bangkok.

British passenger Andrew Davies told Sky News that the seat belt sign was lit but the crew members did not have enough time to sit in their seats.

“Every cabin crew member I saw was injured in one way or another, perhaps with a head wound,” Davis said. “One of them had back pain and was in obvious pain.”

“Some people hit their heads on the baggage compartment at the top and made a dent in it,” Zaffran Azmir, a 28-year-old student who was on the plane, told ABC News. “They hit the places where the lights and masks are and smashed right into it.”

Kittipong Kittikashorn, general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said in a press conference that the sudden landing occurred while food was being served to passengers.

He added that seven passengers were seriously injured, while 23 passengers and nine crew members were moderately injured. Sixteen people with less serious injuries received treatment in hospital, while 14 people were treated at the airport. He added that the British man appeared to have suffered a heart attack, but medical authorities need to confirm this.

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A later statement from Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said 71 people were treated there, including six who were seriously injured. No explanation was available for this discrepancy.

Tracking data captured by FlightRadar24 and analyzed by the Associated Press shows Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 flying at 37,000 feet (11,300 meters).

At one point, the Boeing 777-300ER suddenly and sharply descended to an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) within about three minutes, according to the data. The plane then remained at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) for less than 10 minutes before diverting course and landing in Bangkok less than half an hour later.

The hard landing occurred when the flight was over the Andaman Sea near Myanmar. The plane then sent “squawk code” 7700, which is an international emergency signal.

Weather details were not immediately available.

Most people associate turbulence with severe storms, but the most dangerous type is so-called clear-air turbulence. Wind shear can occur in cirrus clouds or even in clear air near thunderstorms, where differences in temperature and pressure create powerful currents of fast-moving air.

The problem of turbulence was highlighted in December, when a total of 41 people on two separate flights hit by turbulence in the United States were injured or received medical treatment over two consecutive days.

According to a 2021 report by the US National Transportation Safety Board, turbulence accounted for 37.6% of all accidents on major commercial airlines between 2009 and 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration, another US government agency, said after the December accidents that there were 146 serious accidents and injuries caused by turbulence from 2009 to 2021.

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The NTSB said it would send a team to support Singapore’s investigation into the incident.

Boeing offered its condolences to the family of the deceased and said that it was in contact with Singapore Airlines “and is ready to support them.” The wide-body Boeing 777 is the workhorse of the aviation industry, used mainly on long-haul flights by airlines around the world. The 777-300ER is a larger, twin-aisle aircraft that can carry more passengers than previous models.

Singapore Airlines, the city-state’s flag carrier, operates 22 aircraft as part of its fleet of more than 140 aircraft. The airline’s parent company is majority owned by Singaporean state investment group Temasek and also operates budget airline Scoot.

Thai Transport Minister Surya Jongroongruangkit said Singapore would send another plane to pick up those who could travel. She arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said in a Facebook post that his ministry and Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and Changi Airport officials along with airline employees, are “providing support to the affected passengers and their families.”

The ministry’s Transportation Safety Investigation Bureau said it was in contact with its Thai counterpart and would send investigators to Bangkok.

Singapore Airlines said the nationalities of the passengers were 56 Australians, two Canadians, one German, three Indians, two Indonesians, one from Iceland, four from Ireland, one Israeli, 16 Malaysians, two from Myanmar, 23 from New Zealand, and five Filipinos. 41 from Singapore, one from South Korea, two from Spain, 47 from the UK and four from the US.

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Associated Press writers Elaine Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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