Altitude plunge caused injuries on Singapore Airlines flight

Australian Keith Davis and his wife were injured on SQ321

Source: Today Show

A preliminary probe into the deadly Singapore Airlines flight plunge has pinpointed the terrifying five seconds that caused severe injuries to passengers and crew.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders reveal a sudden and dramatic 54-metre drop in just 4.6 seconds as the plane flew over Myanmar on May 21.

“The rapid changes in G over the 4.6-second duration resulted in an altitude drop of 178 feet (54 metres), from 37,362 feet (11,387 metres) to 37,184 ft (11,333 metres),” the report released by Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau said.

“This sequence of events likely caused the injuries to the crew and passengers.”

A 73-year-old passenger died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured, including 12 Australians and one permanent resident.

Flight SQ321 from London to Singapore had been a normal journey until the plane began to experience “slight vibration”.

This initial turbulence, before the big drop, was likely caused by an updraft, which forced the plane up by about 110 metres, the report said.

To counter the rise, the autopilot kicked in and pitched the plane downwards, and the “fasten seat belt” sign was switched on.

Suddenly, the aircraft had a rapid drop in G over 0.6 seconds that “likely resulted in the occupants who were not belted up to become airborne”.

This was followed by a rise in G over four seconds, which likely resulted in passengers who were airborne to fall back down.

In the midst of this, the pilots tried to manually stabilise the aircraft and disengaged the autopilot.

Over the next 24 seconds the Boeing’s vertical acceleration fluctuated while the aircraft returned to 11,277 metres.

“After the pilots were informed by the cabin crew that there were injured passengers in the cabin, the decision was made to divert to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand,” the report said.

“On the way to Bangkok, the pilots requested for medical services to meet the aircraft on arrival.


Shaken passengers described scenes of chaos in the minutes after the incident, with the turbulence throwing people upwards then into the aisle, many left with bleeding and head wounds.

Australian passenger Keith Davis recalled being throwing to the ceiling in “literally seconds” as the plane plunged, leaving him with cuts and bruising and his wife Kerry Jordan needing emergency spinal surgery.

Photographs of the cabin showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around.

A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into lights above the seats and broken the panels.

Singapore Airlines said it acknowledged the report and was co-operating fully with the investigation.

“We are committed to supporting our passengers and crew members who were on board SQ321 on that day, as well as their families and loved ones,” it said on Wednesday.

The aftermath of last week's turbulence

Source: X/FL360aero

Late on Tuesday, the airline had said 45 people from SQ321 were still in Bangkok, including 28 passengers being treated in hospital.

Among those initially hospitalised were patients with spinal cord injuries and some with brain and skull injuries, according to Thai medical officials.

The preliminary report said that upon the flight encountering slight vibrations there was an uncommanded increase in altitude, resulting in the autopilot pitching the aircraft downwards.

The pilots noticed an increase in airspeed and responded by applying speed brakes.

“While managing the airspeed … it was heard that a pilot called out that the fasten seat belt sign had been switched on,” it said.

The investigation team comprised Singaporean investigators, representatives from Boeing and US officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Singapore transport ministry said the probe continued.

-with AAP

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