Shaken passengers from deadly turbulence-hit flight arrive in Singapore

One person died and dozens are being treated in hospital in Bangkok after Singapore Airlines flight from London struck ‘sudden extreme turbulence’

Singapore flight
Passengers who were on board the flight SQ321 arrive at Changi Airport in Singapore [SPH/The Straits Times/Ariffin Jamar via Reuters]

More than 140 passengers and crew from a Singapore Airlines flight hit by severe turbulence that left dozens injured and one man dead have arrived in Singapore, a day after their aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in Bangkok.

The 131 passengers and 12 crew arrived on a relief flight early on Wednesday morning after their original flight from London struck “sudden extreme turbulence” about 10 hours into the flight over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar.

A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack, and more than 100 people were injured after the Boeing 777-300ER dropped 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) in about three minutes.

Twenty people were in intensive care in Bangkok hospitals on Wednesday.

“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old Malaysian student who was on the flight, told the Reuters news agency after arriving in Singapore.

Singapore flight
The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 [Stringer/Reuters]

Videos and photos posted on social media showed frightened passengers grabbing the armrests, dishevelled members of the cabin crew – one with blood on her face – oxygen masks, sheets of plastic from the overhead cabin panels and other parts of the interior dangling from the ceiling with food, drink bottles and belongings strewn across the floor.

There were 211 passengers on board including people from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The injured and their families remained in Bangkok.

“We are very sorry for the traumatic experience that everyone on board went through,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video on social media. He said the airline was providing all necessary support and would fully cooperate in investigations into the incident.

Officers from Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday night, Singapore’s Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said in a statement on Facebook.

SIngapore flight
A damaged galley on SQ321 [Stringer/Reuters]

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would also send an accredited representative and four technical advisers to support the investigation, he added.

Goh said the plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.

Andrew Davies, a British passenger, told BBC radio that the aircraft “suddenly dropped” and there was “very little warning”.

“During the few seconds of the plane dropping, there was an awful screaming and what sounded like a thud,” he said, adding that he helped a woman who was “screaming in agony” with a “gash on her head”.

Weather forecasting service AccuWeather said that rapidly developing, explosive thunderstorms near the flight path of SQ321 probably contributed to the violent turbulence.

“Developing thunderstorms often have strong updrafts, a zone of upward moving air, that rises very rapidly, sometimes at more than 100 mph, and can leave pilots with little time to react if it occurs directly in front of the plane,” said Dan DePodwin, AccuWeather’s senior director of forecasting operations.

Media in the UK identified the man who died as retired insurance professional Geoff Kitchen, who was from the west of England and on his way to Australia for a holiday with his wife, Linda. She was among the passengers taken to hospital in Bangkok.

Officials from the British and Malaysian embassies in Bangkok visited hospitals on Wednesday to check on the injured.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said nine Malaysians, including a crew member, were receiving treatment for their injuries. One was in a critical, but stable condition, it said in a statement.

Scientists have long warned that climate change is likely to increase the incidence of so-called clear air turbulence, which cannot be detected by radar.

A 2023 study found the annual duration of clear air turbulence increased by 17 percent from 1979 to 2020, with the most severe cases increasing more than 50 percent.

A man and a woman hug as family members look on after passengers from flight SQ321 arrived in Singapore
Passengers of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London to Singapore, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok, greet family members upon arrival at Changi Airport in Singapore [Roslan Rahman/AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies