This is not a drill: ordeal on Flight 222
One minute secure, the next confronted with the prospect of death, 254 passengers on SIA Flight 222 endured seven fearful minutes over NSW this week. Philip Cornford reports on their fate.
The only warning was a popping sensation in their ears. Then oxygen masks dropped out of their panels and dangled in front of their faces.
It was 5.46pm on Tuesday. In that moment, 254 passengers on Singapore Airlines Flight 222 out of Sydney were confronted with the worst fears of air travellers, a potentially life-threatening situation beyond their control. No longer passengers, they were captives of fate, powerless to do anything to help themselves. Except stay calm.
"This is an emergency. This is not a drill," a recorded message droned. For the next seven minutes, it repeated the message continuously.
In that time, the passengers - and the cabin crew - had no idea of what the emergency was, or what their fate would be. Strapped in their seats, they could only pray and hope.
"They were seven minutes of tremendous anxiety," said Singapore Airlines spokesman Stephen Forshaw.
Captain Kwon and his flight deck crew were too busy making an emergency descent to reassure the passengers, dropping the Boeing 747-400 at a vertical rate of 1.3 kilometres a minute.
The crisis was a drop in cabin pressurisation. For several minutes, cabin crew had been reporting that passengers were complaining of "popping ears" and that they had the same troubling sensation themselves - a sure sign of decompression.
Flight deck instruments confirmed their fears. Although Flight 222 was at 36,000 feet (about 11,000 metres), the air pressure inside the plane was maintained at 6,000 feet. But it had risen to 9,000 feet, there was no explanation for the fault, and it was likely to keep rising, possibly past 14,000 feet, the altitude at which humans require oxygen masks to survive.
Captain Kwon did not wait to give a warning. He activated the oxygen masks. Fortunately, the aircraft had been passing through turbulence, so passengers and cabin crew were strapped in their seat belts.
Excerpt from http://www.smh.com.au/news/0111/10/national/national13.html