Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

By Thomson Reuters May 21, 2024 | 5:12 PM

By Kokkai Ng and Joseph Campbell

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Many passengers on a Singapore Airlines flight hit by heavy turbulence which left dozens injured and one dead from a suspected heart attack finally reached Singapore on Wednesday morning.

Dozens of passengers quietly filed off a Singapore Airlines jet, mostly ignoring media awaiting their arrival. Some responded to shouted questions, confirming they had been on the original London-Singapore trip and saying “Good flight!” when asked about the last leg from Bangkok.

The scheduled London-to-Singapore flight diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some hard into the ceiling.

A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured. Singapore Airlines took those who could continue on a flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT).

Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.

The sequence of events is still unclear, as the plane declared a medical emergency – but Reuters has not been able to confirm whether that happened before the turbulence erupted and the plane’s altitude dropped from 37,000 feet to about 31,000 feet in a short period of time.

The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.

Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.

Photographs from the interior of the plane showed large gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen 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.

“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,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters.

While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.

From 2009 through 2018, the U.S. 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 recognized 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 Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.

(Reporting by David Gaffen; Editing by Stephen Coates and Peter Henderson)