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One dead as London to Singapore flight hit by ‘severe turbulence’

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There were 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board the Boeing 777-300ER, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok.

One person has died and several others injured when a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore was hit by severe turbulence, the airline says.

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

Flight SQ321 “encountered severe turbulence en route”, Singapore Airlines said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board the Boeing 777-300ER.”

There were 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board.

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 seatbelt 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.

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SG321 after the emergency landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport [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, which can cause turbulence, are common.

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.

The airline did not say how many people were injured, but multiple Thai media reports said there were 30 injured.

It said its “priority is to provide all possible assistance to all passengers and crew on board the aircraft” and that it was working with the Thai authorities “to provide the necessary medical assistance”.

Thai immigration police said medical personnel had boarded the plane to assess injuries, but did not confirm the number. It said the uninjured passengers had disembarked.

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.”

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]
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