TECHNICAL PROBLEMS: Samy Vellu among 195 passengers on MAS aircraft which landed in Penang
KUALA LUMPUR: FORMER MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu was among 195 passengers on a Malaysia Airlines flight, which descended 8,800m when the aircraft encountered a technical problem yesterday.
Samy Vellu was flying with his press secretary E. Sivabalan back to Kuala Lumpur from Chennai when flight MH181 developed a problem, forcing the pilot to use emergency procedures.
The pilot made an emergency landing at the Bayan Lepas International Airport in Penang.
Flight MH181 was supposed to take off at 12.30am but was delayed for four hours because of a thunderstorm in Chennai.
Sivabalan said both he and Samy Vellu were asleep when they were awakened by the pilot's announcement at 7.15am.
"He made several announcements that we were in an emergency descent. No one screamed in the plane but I could see that they were in shock."
He said he was literally clutching the seat during the entire ordeal.
"The plane was shaking hard. We could feel the plane dropping. We were told not to move around and to put on our seat belts."
He said some of the overhead oxygen masks dropped, but not for his seat. The cabin crew then moved him to another seat.
"A girl next to me was crying and asked me repeatedly if we were going to die. Her friend was stunned. I smiled at her and told her to pray hard."
He then looked around and saw a couple behind him holding hands, the woman crying and the man trying to console her.
He said a man sitting to his left asked him if he could smell the engine burning.
"I told him yes. The oxygen mask was not functioning and all this went on for 30 minutes."
He said the captain then announced that they had made it to safety but they could not land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
"He said we were to land in Medan, Indonesia because of fuel shortage, but we ended up in Penang."
Upon landing, Sivabalan asked the captain what had happened and was told that there was zero cabin pressure and that the plane had descended from 11,880m to 3,048m to stabilise pressure in the cabin.
"He told me that in his 20 years' experience, this was the first case (where such procedures had to be taken). He could not explain why the cabin lost pressure. But we thanked him for saving our lives."
He said MAS should look into the safety of its airplanes.
"Some of the oxygen masks were not working. There was a sudden loss of cabin pressure. We had a horrifying experience. We hope MAS will look into this."
The passengers later boarded a flight from Penang to KLIA at noon.
In a statement later, MAS said the aircraft, an Airbus A330-200, lost cabin pressure during the final stages of the flight. It said the oxygen masks were released as a precautionary measure and the aircraft landed safely in Penang at 8.23am.
MAS director of operations Captain Izham Ismail said the diversion was necessary and that the pilot activated "necessary precautionary measures" to ensure minimal discomfort to customers.