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One dead, 71 injured as London-Singapore flight hits severe turbulence

By AFP - May 21,2024 - Last updated at May 21,2024

This frame grab from a video by Phongsak Suksi taken and released on Tuesday and made available via AFPTV shows ambulances leaving the fire station at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok (AFP photo)

BANGKOK — One person died and more than 70 were injured on Tuesday when a Singapore Airlines flight from London hit severe turbulence and was forced to make an emergency landing in Bangkok.

Flight tracking data suggested the plane dropped more than 1,800 metres in just five minutes, causing multiple head injuries to those on board.

It is the latest drama involving a Boeing plane, after a fuselage panel blew out of an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX in January as well as two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

Singapore Airlines said flight SQ321 took off from London’s Heathrow airport and “encountered sudden extreme turbulence” at 11,300 metres over Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Basin. 

“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 in a statement.

Kittipong Kittikachorn, the director of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said the passenger who died was a 73-year-old British man.

Most of the injuries were caused by blows to the head, Kittipong said. 

Bangkok’s Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said a total of 71 people had been sent for treatment, six of them severely injured. 

“We deeply apologise for the traumatic experience that our passengers and crew members suffered on this flight. We are providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time,” Singapore Airlines said.

Of the passengers, 56 were Australians, 47 British and 41 Singaporeans, the airline said.

The incident came as parts of Thailand were buffeted by thunderstorms as the country’s annual rainy season gets underway.

“At 3:35pm the airport received a distress call from the Singapore Airlines flight saying there were passengers on board injured by turbulence, and requesting an emergency landing,” Suvarnabhumi Airport said in a statement.

“The plane landed at the airport and the medical team was sent to treat all the injured.”

Emergency vehicles raced onto the tarmac at the Thai capital’s main airport with lights flashing and sirens blaring after Singapore-bound Boeing 777 touched down at 3:45pm (08:45 GMT).

 

Singapore to send investigators 

 

Singapore’s transport ministry said it would send investigators to Bangkok, while the city-state’s President Tharman Shanmugaratnam said “we must hope and pray” for the injured to recover.

Boeing said it was “ready to support” Singapore Airlines.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family who lost a loved one, and our thoughts are with the passengers and crew,” Boeing said on social media platform X.

The US aviation giant has been rocked by a series of problems in recent years and in March announced the departure of CEO Dave Calhoun as it faces intense scrutiny on safety and manufacturing standards.

The company has a late May deadline to present a plan required by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which has capped MAX production until the company shows progress on safety and quality control.

And in September, the company faces a potential strike of 30,000 workers if it is unable to reach a contract with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Scientists have long warned that climate change is likely to increase so-called clear air turbulence, which is invisible to radar.

A 2023 study found the annual duration of clear air turbulence increased 17 per cent from 1979 to 2020, with the most severe cases increasing over 50 per cent.

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