Home » Singapore Airlines: British man dies in severe turbulence as flight from London Heathrow forced to land in Bangkok

Singapore Airlines: British man dies in severe turbulence as flight from London Heathrow forced to land in Bangkok

A 73-year-old British man has died from a suspected heart attack after “sudden extreme turbulence” on a London-Singapore flight.

Dozens more have been injured after passengers described people being “launched into the ceiling” and overhead lockers.

Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from Heathrow was forced to make an emergency landing in Thailand.

The plane left London on Monday night but diverted to Bangkok, landing at 3.45pm local time on Tuesday.

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Oxygen masks were left dangling from the ceiling. Pic: Reuters

Staff member carry people on stretchers after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, in Bangkok.
Pic Reuters
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Some passengers were taken into ambulances on stretchers. Pic Reuters

Read more:
Images show damage in plane after one killed in turbulence
Is flight turbulence getting worse – and what types are there?

Singapore Airlines said the pilot declared a medical emergency and landed in Bangkok after “sudden extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy Basin at 37,000 feet about 10 hours after departure”.

Passenger Dzafran Azmir, 28, described the chaos on board.

“Suddenly the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking so I started bracing for what was happening,” he said.

“And very suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing seatbelts was launched immediately into the ceiling.”

“Some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it,” he added.

“They hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it.”

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Pic: Reuters
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Damage inside the plane. Pic: Reuters

Pic: Reuters
The interior of Singapore Airline flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand May 21, 2024. Obtained by Reuters/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Passengers on board. Pic: Reuters

Briton Andrew Davies told Sky News “anyone who had a seatbelt on isn’t injured”.

He said the seatbelt sign came on, but there was no time for crew to take their seats.

Mr Davies said “every single cabin crew person I saw was injured in some way or another, maybe with a gash on their head… One had a bad back, and was in obvious pain.”

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Emergency services surround plane on tarmac

Kittipong Kittikachorn, head of Bangkok airport, told reporters a British man, 73, had died from probable cardiac arrest.

He said it’s believed the turbulence hit while people were having breakfast and that an “air pocket” was to blame.

“Seventy-one people needed treatment and six of them had critical injuries,” said Bangkok’s Smitivej Srinakarin Hospital.

However, Singapore Airlines seemed to contradict those numbers and said only 30 people had been taken to hospital.

In a statement, the UK Foreign Office said it was “in contact with the local authorities”.

Forty-seven Britons were among the 211 passengers and 18 crew onboard the plane, a Boeing 777-300ER.

A Singapore airline aircraft is seen on tarmac after requesting an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Pic: Pongsak Suksi/Reuters
Image:
The Boeing 777-300ER was forced to land in Bangkok. Pic: Pongsak Suksi/Reuters


Airline meals
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Airline meals lie scattered on the floor

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Cabin crew members surrounded by debris

Flight tracking data showed the plane cruising at 37,000ft (11,280m) before dropping 6,000ft (1,830m) in around three minutes.

However, a spokesperson for FlightRadar24 said this appeared to “just be a flight level change in preparation for landing”.

Ambulances surrounded the aircraft on the tarmac after landing, with images showing some passengers taken away on stretchers.

Turbulence can hit without warning

Jo Robinson

Weather producer

@SkyJoRobinson

There are a few forms of turbulence – where there’s a sudden change in airflow and wind speed.

Turbulence can often be associated with storm clouds, which are usually well forecast and monitored, allowing planes to fly around them.

Clear-Air Turbulence (CAT) is much more dangerous as there are no visual signs, such as clouds.

This invisible vertical air movement usually occurs at and above 15,000ft and is mostly linked to the jet stream.

There are clues on where CAT may occur, but generally it can’t be detected ahead of time, which means flight crews can be caught unaware with no time to warn passengers and put seat belt signs on.

It’s been understood for some time that climate change is increasing turbulence during flights, and the trend is set to worsen according to reports.

“Singapore Airlines offers its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased,” it said in a statement.

“We deeply apologise for the traumatic experience that our passengers and crew members suffered on this flight.”

It said it was working with Thai authorities and “providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time”, including sending a special team to Bangkok.

Read more:
Climate change causing more turbulence, say scientists

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Singapore is considered a standard-setter for the aviation industry and consistently tops airline awards.

Turbulence-related injuries are the most common type on passenger planes, according to a study by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

It found it was responsible for more than a third of accidents between 2009 and 2018, but no aircraft damage.

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