KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ535 from Perth to Bali suffered a major scare when it dropped 22,000 feet in a matter of seconds, causing passengers and crew to scream and forcing the aircraft to turn back.
The sudden and massive drop in altitude caused oxygen masks to drop from their overhead compartments, but panicking passengers were given little comfort upon seeing cabin crew also in a state of panic, Australian media reported.
Portals such as PerthNow and TV stations such as 7News and Nine News said there were 145 passengers aboard the aircraft at the time, most of whom complained that the crew “were of no help at all” when the emergency situation occurred some 25 minutes into the three-hour and 45-minute flight.
The aircraft was reported to have plummeted from 32,000 feet to 10,000 feet, while still over Western Australia.
The aircraft turned around and landed safely in Perth where passengers later boarded another aircraft provided by the low-cost carrier.
Australian media outlets quoted passenger Clare Askew as saying the panic escalated because of the behaviour of cabin crew who were screaming and “looked tearful and shocked”.
“Now, I get it... but we looked to them for reassurance and we didn’t get any, we were more worried because of how panicked they were,” she told Australian reporters.
Another passenger said the pilot did not come on the public address system until after the flight had made the turnaround.
Aviation experts told the New Straits Times, however, that this was understandable as the pilot would have had his hands full dealing with the situation and it was standard operating procedure that the pilot’s priority in such situations was to ensure that the aircraft and those aboard were out of immediate danger.
A passenger who was only identified as Leah, interviewed by Nine News, said some passengers picked up their phones and sent text messages to family, believing that they were going to die.
“I actually picked up my phone and sent a text message to my family, just hoping that they would get it. We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other. It was really upsetting,” she said.
No one, however, was reported to have been injured in the incident.
AirAsia in a statement said flight QZ535 with 145 passengers on board landed safely at the Perth International Airport at 12.40pm.
“Our engineers are assessing the aircraft. All affected passengers (were) scheduled to the next available flight and provided with necessary assistance including meal vouchers.
“The safety of our guests is our utmost priority. AirAsia Indonesia apologises for any inconvenience caused.”
In June, an AirAsia X flight D7237 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Perth was forced to turn back 90 minutes into the trip due to a technical issue.