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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Rebecca Ratcliffe in Bangkok, Elias Visontay in Sydney and agencies

Screams, chaos, blood on the floor: passengers describe terrifying turbulence on flight SQ321

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 on May 2024. A 73-year-old British man died and more than 70 people were injuredduring severe turbulence.
Passengers on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London to Singapore, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok, are met by family members at Changi airport in Singapore. A 73-year-old British man died and more than 70 people were injured during severe turbulence. Photograph: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

It had been an uneventful journey from Heathrow. After 10 hours in the sky, flight SQ321 from London to Singapore was just a few hours from its destination, above the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar, when the aircraft dropped. Passengers said it happened in an instant, with little time to respond to warnings to fasten their seatbelts. Passengers who were not strapped in were launched into the ceiling and across the aisles as the aircraft hit a patch of severe turbulence.

Flight attendants had been serving breakfast at the time. Coffee and cups of water were thrown into the air, people’s phones, shoes and cushions were flung around.

“So many injured people. Head lacerations, bleeding ears. A lady was screaming in pain with a bad back. I couldn’t help her – just got her water,” one passenger, Andrew Davies from London, wrote on social media. There had been very little warning, he said. “The seatbelt sign came on, I put on my seatbelt straight away then the plane just dropped.”

Photographs of the inside of the cabin showed oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling, and the floor covered in food and drinks, with luggage scattered. Patches of blood stained the cabin carpets. One passenger told Reuters overhead plastic panels had been broken by the impact of people’s heads slamming into them.

Jerry, 68, a Briton travelling to Australia for his son’s wedding, told the BBC there was no warning before the plane dropped. “I’d just been to the loo, came back, sat down, a bit of turbulence and suddenly the plane plunged. I don’t know how far, but it was a long way,” he said. He and his wife both hit their heads on the ceiling.

“Some poor people walking around ended up doing somersaults. It was terrible. And then suddenly it stopped and it was calm again.

“The staff did their best to tend to the injured people – there are a lot of them. And some of the staff were injured themselves so did a sterling job,” said Jerry.

Singapore Airlines said the flight had encountered “sudden extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy basin at 37,000 feet” about 10 hours after departure. The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the aircraft. It landed in Bangkok at 3.45pm local time on Tuesday.

A 73-year-old man, named as Geoffrey Kitchen, from Thornbury, Gloucestershire, died in the incident. The retired insurance professional was travelling with his wife to Singapore on their way to a holiday in Australia. According to Thai authorities, he had a heart condition and probably had a heart attack. A total of 71 people, including six with severe injuries, were taken to hospital. Many had head injuries, according to Thai officials.

“Some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it, they hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight, told Reuters.

After landing in Bangkok, medical teams rushed on to the plane, carrying the most severely injured away on stretchers. The Boeing 777 had been carrying 211 passengers – mostly from Australia, Britain, New Zealand or Singapore – and 18 crew members. Of the 71 people taken for treatment at Samitivej Srinakarin hospital, 26 had minor injuries, 39 moderate injuries and six were severely injured.

Teandra Tukhunen, who was among those being treated at the hospital, and whose left arm was in a sling, told Sky News UK she had been asleep when the turbulence hit.

“I woke up because of the turbulence, and then when they put on the seatbelt sign, pretty much immediately, straight after that I was flung to the roof, before I even had time to put my seatbelt on unfortunately,” Tukhunen, a 30-year-old from Melbourne, said.

“Because it was just so quick they had no warning whatsoever,” she said. “It was just so quick, over in just a couple of seconds and then you’re just shocked.”

She thanked the pilot, who she felt had “saved our lives”, saying: “We’re alive, so that’s all that matters in the end.”

Davies too described airline staff as “stoic”, despite some being injured themselves. “One of the Singapore Airlines crew said it was by far the worst in her 30 years of flying,” he wrote. “Lesson is – wear a seatbelt at all time. Anyone who is injured, was not wearing a seatbelt.”

On Wednesday morning, 131 passengers and 12 crew members arrived in Singapore on a relief flight. Singapore Airlines said it is fully cooperating with authorities. Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau said it is investigating the incident, and will be deploying investigators to Bangkok.

• This article was amended on 22 May 2024 to remove a reference to the aircraft having descended 6,000ft in three minutes, which was part of emergency landing preparations and not the cause of injuries.

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