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Singapore Airlines flight: 1 dead, dozens injured after severe turbulence

BANGKOK (AP) — A Singapore Airlines flight hit severe turbulence over the Indian Ocean and descended 6,000 feet (about 1,800 meters) in about three minutes, the airline said Tuesday. A Briton died and authorities said dozens of passengers were injured, some seriously.

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

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

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

“Every cabin crew member I saw was injured in one way or another, perhaps with a gash to the head,” Davies said. “One of them had a bad back and was clearly in pain. »

Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on the flight, told ABC News: “Some people hit their heads on the overhead baggage cabins and dented it.” They hit the places where there are lights and masks and passed through them.

Kittipong Kittikachorn, general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, told a news conference that the sudden descent occurred while passengers were receiving food.

It said seven passengers were seriously injured and 23 passengers and nine crew members suffered minor injuries. Sixteen people, less seriously injured, were hospitalized and 14 were treated at the airport. He said the British man appeared to have had a heart attack, but medical authorities would need to confirm this.

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

Tracking data captured by FlightRadar24 and analyzed by the Associated Press shows Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,300 meters).

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

The steep descent occurred as the flight took place over the Andaman Sea near Myanmar. The plane then sent a “cry code” of 7700, an international emergency signal.

Weather details were not immediately available.

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

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

According to a 2021 report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, turbulence accounted for 37.6% of all accidents on large commercial airlines between 2009 and 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration, another U.S. government agency, has said after the December incidents that there had been 146 serious accidents. injuries due to turbulence from 2009 to 2021.

The NTSB announced it would send a team to support the investigation into the accident in Singapore.

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

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

Thai Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungruangkit said Singapore was sending another plane to transport those who could travel. He arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening.

Singapore 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 authorities and Changi Airport officials as well as airline staff, “are providing support to affected passengers and their families.”

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

Singapore Airlines said the nationalities of the passengers were 56 Australians, two Canadians, one German, three Indians, two Indonesians, one Icelander, four Irish, one Israeli, 16 Malaysians, two from Myanmar, 23 New Zealanders, five Filipinos, 41 from Singapore, one South Korean, two Spaniards, 47 from the United Kingdom and four from the United States.


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

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