the minute-by-minute account of the London-Singapore flight and its “extreme turbulence”

“Extreme turbulence” left one dead and dozens injured on board a Boeing flying from London to Singapore on Tuesday, May 21.

A fall of 1,900 meters in 180 seconds. Passengers on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, which was to connect London to Singapore, experienced a real nightmare this Tuesday, May 21. The plane, a Boeing 777-300ER, was preparing to fly over Thailand when it encountered “extreme turbulence”, forcing a landing in Bangkok.

A 73-year-old British man who suffered from heart disease has died. At least thirty people were also injured, seven of them seriously.

During takeoff eleven hours earlier, nothing suggested such a tragedy. “It was a completely normal flight. Everything seemed to be going like clockwork,” says Andrew Davies, a Briton who was on board.

The Boeing took off safely with a slight delay of ten minutes from London’s Heathrow Airport at 10:14 p.m. local time. During the night, the plane flies smoothly over Europe, the Black Sea, western Asia and India and gets closer to its destination hour after hour.

It was 9:07 a.m. in London (10:07 a.m. in Paris, 3:07 p.m. in Bangkok) when the aircraft suddenly lost altitude.

3:07 p.m.: the plane goes into a dive

The Boeing, its 211 passengers and 18 crew members were hit by intense turbulence over the Andaman Sea, west of Thailand. Suddenly, the plane went into a dive and lost 6,000 feet of altitude in just three minutes. A fall of 1,900 meters, at a speed of 900 km/h.

In the cabin, it’s chaos. The turbulence occurred so quickly that the pilot did not have time to order the passengers and crew members to sit down. The warning light asking people to fasten their seat belts came on and the plane immediately plunged, passengers said.

“Everyone who was seated and not wearing a seat belt was immediately thrown to the ceiling,” recalls Dzafran Azmir, who was on board. According to another passenger, a man who was in the toilet at the time of the fall was also thrown to the ceiling and was seriously injured.

“Some poor people who were walking around ended up doing somersaults,” recalls another 68-year-old Briton, Jerry.

At the same time, objects and dozens of personal belongings cross the cabin at full speed. The oxygen masks fall. It’s the panic.

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The interior of the Boeing 777-300ER plane after severe turbulence on May 21, 2024. © BFMTV

3:10 p.m.: the plane stabilizes, one dead

According to Flightradar data, the plane stabilized at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) three minutes after it began to fall, at 3:10 p.m. “During the few seconds after the plane went down, we heard a terrible scream and what sounded like a thud,” said Andrew Davis, who said he helped a woman who was “screaming in agony” and who had a “gash on the head”.

Dozens of people are injured. “Every cabin crew member I saw was injured in some way, perhaps with a gash to the head… One had a bad back and was clearly in pain “, says the Briton, affirming that the staff “did everything they could”.

A 73-year-old man, Geoff Kitchen, dies. This Briton, who suffered from a “heart condition”, probably suffered a heart attack during the fall or in the minutes that followed.

class="lozad">The interior of the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft after severe turbulence on May 21, 2024.>

>The interior of the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft after severe turbulence on May 21, 2024.>
The interior of the Boeing 777-300ER plane after severe turbulence on May 21, 2024. © BFMTV

3:45 p.m.: emergency landing in Bangkok

In the cockpit, the pilot urgently contacted the Thai air authorities. “At 3:35 p.m., the airport received a distress call from the Singapore Airlines plane indicating that there were passengers on board injured by turbulence and requesting an emergency landing,” explained in a statement Bangkok airport.

In the cabin, the passengers are terrified. Speaking to the BBC, Allison Barker said she received a message from her son, who was on the plane: “I don’t want to scare you, but I’m on a flight and the plane is making an emergency landing.. . I love you all”.

This mother waited two long hours before hearing from her son. “He must have lost consciousness because he found himself on the ground with other people,” she explains.

According to Flightradar data, the pilot began a descent at 3:17 p.m., even before contacting the airport. In 18 minutes, the plane headed towards land and gradually lost 31,000 feet of altitude. An “ultra-fast” landing: the day before, it took more than 30 minutes for the pilot of flight SQ321 to leave the sky and reach Singapore.

class="lozad">Ambulances at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 21, 2024>

>Ambulances at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 21, 2024>
Ambulances at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday May 21, 2024 © PHONGSAK SUKSI / AFPTV / AFP

At 3:45 p.m., the Boeing 777 lands on the runway at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Ambulances rush towards him with sirens blaring and flashing lights on. In the afternoon, Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital in Bangkok said a total of 71 people were being treated, including six seriously injured.

Singapore Airlines and the airport say 30 passengers and crew members were injured in the incident.

5:01 p.m.: Singapore Airlines communicates, an investigation opened

It is a little after 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. in London, 12 p.m. in Paris) when Singapore Airlines communicates. “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,” the airline said on Facebook.

“The Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is in contact with its Thai counterpart and will send investigators to Bangkok,” the Singaporean Ministry of Transport said in a statement a few hours later. In the process, Boeing sends its condolences to the family of the deceased passenger.

“We sincerely apologize for the traumatic experience experienced by our passengers and crew members on this flight. We are providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time,” the airline also states. During the night of Tuesday May 21 to Wednesday May 22, some passengers arrive in Singapore. Others are still stuck in Bangkok, injured and traumatized.

>>Story 4: One dead and 30 injured during a London-Singapore flight – 05/21>>

Story 4: One dead and 30 injured during a London-Singapore flight – 05/21

How to explain such a tragedy?

Turbulence is caused by different meteorological situations such as cloud formations (vertically developing clouds), thunderstorms and air currents in mountain ranges or jet streams.

“Severe turbulence is quite rare in general,” explains Charles Clair, airline pilot and president of the Clair group, on BFMTV. “The plane is not supposed to enter these vertically developing clouds, the weather radar is supposed to detect this type of cloud to avoid them from the right or the left.”

“It seems that the plane was not able to avoid this type of cloud,” adds the pilot, who raises the possibility of a failure of this radar.

However, the fact of not being strapped in largely explains injuries during turbulence. And Charles Clair added: “It is very likely that all of the passengers who were injured were not strapped in because the belt keeps you even at a negative load factor. When you are not, you can move several meters and in an airplane there are blunt surfaces” which can seriously injure”.

This tragedy is unfortunately not the first involving a Boeing aircraft. Since the start of the year, the American aviation giant has been shaken by multiple crises linked to production and quality control problems, which led to the departure of its CEO Dave Calhoun.

By Thursday, May 28, Boeing must submit to the American aviation regulator, which has frozen production of the 737 MAX, a “comprehensive action plan” to remedy the numerous non-compliance problems.

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