23 Kiwis on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London to Singapore, which suffered severe turbulence; one dead, several injured

A Singapore Airlines flight carrying more than 200 passengers, including 23 Kiwis, experienced severe turbulence over the Indian Ocean and descended 6,000 feet (about 1,800 meters) in about three minutes, the airline said.

One Briton was killed and authorities said dozens of passengers were injured, including two New Zealanders who were hospitalized.

Singapore Airlines’ SQ321 service also operates under a codeshare agreement with Air New Zealand under flight number NZ3321. An Air New Zealand spokesperson said 10 passengers were booked on board the flight through the agreement.

“We are working with Singapore Airlines to establish the status of those passengers and will provide updates as soon as we can,” the spokesperson said.

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An airport official said the 73-year-old man who died may have suffered a heart attack, although that has not yet been confirmed. He has been named in the British press as Geoffrey Ralph Kitchen. According to the United Kingdom Daily TelegraphKitchen was traveling with his wife of more than 50 years, Linda. She is in the hospital.

The Singapore Airlines Boeing 777, which took off from London’s Heathrow Airport bound for Singapore with 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board, was diverted and landed in Bangkok amid a storm.

An airline statement posted on social media lists the nationalities of the people on board as follows: 56 from Australia, 23 from New Zealand, 2 from Canada, 1 from Germany, 3 from India, 2 from Indonesia, 1 from Iceland, 4 from Ireland, 1 from Israel, 16 from Malaysia, 2 from Myanmar, 5 from the Philippines, 41 from Singapore, 1 from South Korea, 2 from Spain, 47 from the United Kingdom and 4 from the United States.

Singapore Airlines said: “We can confirm that there were multiple injuries and one death on board the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Singapore Airlines offers its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. “We deeply apologize for the traumatic experience our passengers and crew members suffered on this flight.”

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British passenger Andrew Davies told Sky News that the seat belt sign was illuminated but crew members did not have time to take their seats.

“All the cabin crew I saw were injured in one way or another, maybe with a cut to the head,” Davies said. “One had back problems and was in obvious pain.”

Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student who was on the flight, told ABC News: “Some people hit their heads on the luggage cabins and dented them. “They hit the places where the lights and masks are and went through them.”

Kittipong Kittikachorn, general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, said at a news conference that the sudden drop occurred while food was being served to passengers.

Seven passengers were seriously injured and 23 passengers and nine crew members suffered moderate injuries, it said. Sixteen with less serious injuries received hospital treatment and 14 were treated at the airport. He said the Briton appeared to have suffered a heart attack, but medical authorities would have to confirm this.

A later statement from Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said 71 people had been treated there, including six who were seriously injured. No explanation was available for the discrepancy.

“There were no deaths among those sent to the hospital and no deaths in the hospital.”

The statement also confirmed that two New Zealanders were among the injured taken to hospital.

Tracking data captured by FlightRadar24 and analyzed by the Associated Press shows Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet.

At one point, the Boeing 777-300ER suddenly and sharply descended to 31,000 feet in about three minutes, according to the data. The plane then remained at 31,000 feet for less than 10 minutes before diverting and landing in Bangkok less than half an hour later.

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The sharp descent occurred when the flight was flying over the Andaman Sea, near Myanmar. The aircraft then sent a “squawk code” of 7700, an international emergency signal.

Weather details were not immediately available.

Most people associate turbulence with strong storms, but the most dangerous type is so-called clear air turbulence. Wind shear can occur in faint cirrus clouds or even in clear air near thunderstorms, as differences in temperature and pressure create powerful currents of fast-moving air.

The problem of turbulence was highlighted in December, when a total of 41 people on two separate flights affected by turbulence in the United States were injured or received medical treatment over two consecutive days.

According to a 2021 report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, turbulence accounted for 37.6 percent of all accidents on larger commercial airlines between 2009 and 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration, another agency of the US government, said after the December incidents that there were 146 serious turbulence injuries from 2009 to 2021.

Boeing expressed its condolences to the family of the deceased and said it was in contact with Singapore Airlines “and was ready to support them.” The wide-body Boeing 777 is a workhorse of the aviation industry, used primarily for long-haul flights by airlines around the world. The 777-300ER variant of the twin-engine, twin-aisle aircraft is larger and can carry more passengers than previous models.

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Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, flight SQ321 from Heathrow, is seen on the runway after requesting an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.  Photo / via AP
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, flight SQ321 from Heathrow, is seen on the runway after requesting an emergency landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Photo / via AP

Singapore Airlines, the city-state’s flag carrier, operates 22 of these aircraft as part of its fleet of more than 140 aircraft. The airline’s parent company is majority owned by Singapore government investment conglomerate Temasek and also operates budget airline Scoot.

Thailand’s Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungruangkit said Singapore was sending another plane to transport those who could travel. He arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday night (local time).

Singapore Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said in a Facebook post that his ministry and Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, as well as the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and officials at Changi Airport along with staff from the airline, “are providing support to affected passengers and their families.”

The ministry’s Transportation Safety Investigation Bureau said it was in contact with its Thai counterpart and would send investigators to Bangkok.

– with Associated Press

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