One dead as Singapore Airlines flight from London hit by severe turbulence

There were 211 passengers on board the Boeing 777-300ER, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok.

One person has died and dozens of others were injured after a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore was hit by severe turbulence, officials and the airline said.

The Boeing 777-300ER was diverted to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, where it made an emergency landing at 3:45pm (08:45 GMT) on Tuesday.

The flight fell into an air pocket while cabin crew were serving breakfast before it encountered turbulence, prompting the pilots to request an emergency landing, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport general manager Kittipong Kittikachorn told a news conference.

The airline said 18 people were hospitalised and 12 others were being treated in hospitals. Samitivej Hospital said it was treating 71 passengers, including six who were severely injured.

There were 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board.

A 73-year-old British man died during the incident, likely due to a heart attack, Kittikachorn told a news conference.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said the government would provide assistance to the passengers and their families.

“I am deeply saddened to learn about the incident onboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London Heathrow to Singapore,” he posted in a statement on Facebook. “My deepest condolences to the family of the deceased.”

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After about 11 hours of flying time, the aircraft sharply dropped from an altitude of about 37,000 feet (11,278 metres) to 31,000 feet (9,449 metres) within five minutes as it crossed the Andaman Sea and neared Thailand, according to FlightRadar 24 data.

“Suddenly, the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking so I started bracing for what was happening, and very suddenly, there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing seatbelts was launched immediately into the ceiling,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student passenger, told the Reuters news agency.

“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,” Azmir said.

Singapore Airlines
A Singapore Airlines aircraft is seen on the tarmac after it requested an emergency landing at the Bangkok international airport on May 21, 2024 [Pongsak Suksi/Handout via Reuters]

Deaths linked to turbulence ‘rare’

Andrew Charlton, director of Aviation Advocacy, a consulting firm, told Al Jazeera that deaths caused by turbulence are “extremely rare”.

He said the plane was flying over a tropical area where thunderstorms are common, which can cause turbulence.

Charlton said a change in air temperature, caused by a lower layer of air cooling down as the day ended and the night began, could also have led to severe turbulence.

He emphasised that the Singapore Airlines aircraft is designed to “withstand severe amounts of turbulence”. However, he also warned that turbulence can still cause injuries to passengers not wearing seatbelts.

medical staff gather near ambulances at the fire station at Suvarnabhumi Airport
Medical staff gather near ambulances at the fire station at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok [AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies