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Singapore Airlines: Passenger dead after severe turbulence on London-Singapore flight

Bangkok, Thailand

One person died and at least 71 others were injured aboard a Singapore Airlines plane that encountered severe turbulence during a flight from London to Singapore.

The Boeing 777-300ER plane diverted to Bangkok, according to a post on Singapore Airlines’ Facebook page. It said 211 passengers and 18 crew members were on board.

The company initially said in a post that 30 passengers were injured in the in-flight disruption and were being treated at hospitals, while other travelers were receiving outpatient care at the airport.

The only person to die was a 73-year-old British man, identified as Geoff Kitchen.

“Preliminary investigations indicate that the deceased suffered from heart disease,” Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport general manager Kittipong Kittikachorn said on Tuesday, adding that the autopsy process was still ongoing.

Kitchen’s death was confirmed by the Thornbury Musical Theater Group (TMTG), an establishment where he worked for more than 35 years, in a Facebook post that described him as “always a gentleman with the utmost honesty and integrity » and who “always did what was perfect for the group.

The British Foreign Office told CNN it is supporting the family of a British passenger who died on a Singapore Airlines flight.

The flight landed in the Thai capital on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. local time (4:45 a.m. ET).

Kittikachorn, who inspected the plane, told CNN he was informed of the emergency landing 10 minutes before it landed. He also said several passengers suffered broken arms but the majority of injuries were cuts and bruises.

Some injured passengers were sent to the nearby Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital, Kittikachorn said, adding that nearly 200 travelers were waiting to return to their destination. A Singapore Airlines plane carrying 131 of the 211 passengers then left Bangkok for Singapore, it said.

The hospital said in a statement that at least 71 people were injured, including citizens of Malaysia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Spain, the United States and Ireland. He also said six people were seriously injured. Earlier, Kittikachorn said seven people were seriously injured.


The interior of Singapore Airline Flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, May 21.

Aviation tracking site FlightRadar24 says based on its data that the turbulence on Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 occurred over Myanmar around 7:49 a.m. UTC (3:49 a.m. ET).

This is consistent with an airline statement that the plane “encountered sudden and extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy Basin (a river in Myanmar) at 37,000 feet, approximately 10 hours after departure.”

FlightRadar24 said in a blog post that, according to its data, at that point “the flight encountered a rapid change in vertical velocity, consistent with a sudden turbulence event.”

Data shows the flight changed course about 14 minutes later. The airline says: “The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the plane to Bangkok. »

FlightRadar24 data shows the flight, which was flying at 37,000 feet, suddenly plunged and then rapidly climbed a few hundred feet before diving and rising again, finally settling at its cruising altitude. The entire disturbance lasted about 90 seconds, according to the data, but left dozens injured, including one fatality.

The flight likely encountered rapidly developing thunderstorms over southern Myanmar on Tuesday, at a time when extreme turbulence was being reported, according to CNN’s weather analysis.

Analysis of satellite data shows an area of ​​thunderstorms developing over the Irrawaddy Delta between 7 and 8:30 GMT (early afternoon local time). This is the same time and location reported by the airline and an independent analysis of flight path data from FlightRadar24.

Tropical thunderstorms like these are typical for this time of year, with humidity increasing across the region as the southwest monsoon season begins in South Asia. They can form quickly in the early afternoon as the land warms, particularly near the coast.

Incipient storms like Tuesday’s may not show up on radar in their early stages, although their rapid upward motion can still produce turbulence. Storm cells likely increased from 20,000 to 30,000 feet to well over 50,000 feet in less than an hour.

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Singapore President Tharman Shanmugaratnam released a statement on his social media accounts, expressing “condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased.”

“We do not have details of those affected, but please know that government ministries and agencies, as well as the SIA, are doing everything possible to support all those affected and are working with the authorities in Bangkok, where the plane was diverted. ” Shanmugaratnam said.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the incident” in a statement posted on his social media.

“The Singapore Ministry of Transport, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport officials and SIA (Singapore Airlines) staff are providing support to passengers concerned and their families,” he said.

Singapore’s Ministry of Transport said in a statement that it was investigating the situation involving SQ321 and that its Transport Safety Investigation Office was in contact with its Thai counterparts.

Turbulence occurs when an aircraft passes through colliding bodies of air moving at very different speeds.

In mild to moderate turbulence, passengers may feel tension against their seat belts and unsecured objects may move around the cabin.

But in severe cases, turbulence can throw passengers into the cabin, causing serious injury or sometimes death.


The interior of Singapore Airline Flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, May 21.

In March 2023, violent movements aboard a private jet led to the death of a former White House official, although an investigation later found that weather was not involved in the incident. The incident occurred just days after seven people were taken to hospitals after another commercial flight experienced significant turbulence.

In July 2023, seven people were injured on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Sydney, Australia, when the plane was buffeted by severe turbulence, and 36 people were injured on a Hawaiian Airlines flight between Arizona and Honolulu in December 2022, and 20 people were taken to emergency rooms.

A September 2022 study predicts that clear-air turbulence will increase significantly worldwide by 2050-2080, particularly along the busiest air routes, and that the strongest type of turbulence will increase the most.

Singapore Airlines is often considered one of the safest carriers in the world.

Its only previous fatal accident occurred in October 2000, when Flight SQ006 crashed as the Boeing 747-400 took off from a closed runway in Taiwan in heavy rain, killing 83 people on board.

Singapore Airlines said later on Tuesday that a dedicated team had arrived in Bangkok “to support our colleagues and local authorities on the ground” in an update on its Facebook page.

The airline operator expressed its “deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. We deeply apologize for the traumatic experience our passengers and crew members endured on this flight.

Boeing said it was in contact with the Singaporean carrier and “ready to support them”. The manufacturer refers other questions to the airline and local authorities.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a March 2023 incident involving a private jet. The National Transportation Safety Board later ruled that weather was not involved in the plane’s violent movements.

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