Panic as plane plummets in air pocket

2014-07-17 00:00

PANICKED passengers screamed as SA Airways flight SA 286 dropped like a stone in sudden turbulence en route to Hong Kong on Tuesday night.

Artist and trainee pilot from Maputo, Sebastião Coana (26) was one of many passengers who was flung against the roof as the plane plummeted for several metres.

His head hit the overhead stowage compartment so hard that it left a hole in it. Ewald Sadie, a freelance photographer from Cape Town, tweeted a photo of the hole. Sadie described said people “flying all over the place”. He said he was fine but “f***ing scared”.

Brian Heuer, who was flying with his wife, told the South China Morning Post many of the passengers were asleep while others were walking about when the plane hit the thin air.

Coana said he and everyone else who was hurt had unfastened their seatbelts.

While he knew it was just a pocket of thin air and the pilots would soon fly through it, the turbulence lasted for about two minutes and during all the buffeting the passengers around him were convinced they were falling.

“It was terrible for them and some were hysterical.

“It all happened so suddenly that the pilots had no chance to warn us. The feeling that we were being flung around out of control was the worst for the people around me. Some people hit their heads and were cut.”

Coana, who was flying to Beijing to continue pilot training, moved as little as possible for the remaining five hours of the flight, worried that he might cause further injury to his very sore and stiff neck.

He said the cabin crew were very professional and the captain told them they would receive medical treatment when they landed. Fourteen ambulances were waiting for the plane.

“I will never again fly without my seatbelt fastened,” the trainee pilot said with an embarrassed laugh.

Guy Leitch, a pilot and editor of SA Flyer said the plane will be checked for damage before flying again.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the plane’s passenger cabin had suffered quite lot of damage.

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