Calm, prayers help steer stricken plane

2011-05-16 10:00
Singapore - Terrified passengers aboard a Cathay Pacific flight prayed together as their aircraft, one of its engines on fire, made its way back to Singapore on Monday, and their calm response earned praise from the captain.

Cathay Pacific said the Airbus 330, bound for Jakarta with 136 passengers on board, landed back in Singapore "without incident". It said the crew shut down the engine after receiving a "stall warning".

Reuters photographer Beawiharta was aboard the aircraft with his wife, two sons and daughter. About 20 minutes after take-off, there were two sharp bangs, sending cabin staff scurrying to retrieve the meals they had only just begun serving.

The aircraft began shaking violently, he said, and the lights went out. He could smell something burning.

His son, Pradipta, aged 15, said he saw nothing as he peered out the window.

"But I asked him to cup his hands to get a better view," Beawiharta said. "He shouted: 'I see fire! I see fire!'

Passengers thanked

"Panicked, he then asked: 'Will we die? Will we die?' I took his hand and told him firmly: 'No, we are going to live.'

"Behind us, passengers were praying: 'God, save our flight! Give us your protection!'"

The prayers got louder and louder, pierced by only the occasional cry of panic.

"A stewardess told us an engine had caught fire and we were on our way back to Singapore. Glued to the window, my son said he could see lights, the sea and ships and then lights on the ground. We all grabbed life jackets from beneath our seats, but the plane landed smoothly.

"Within five minutes, as firefighters doused the damaged engine, we walked off the plane into the terminal."

In the waiting room, the pilot greeted assembled passengers.

"The best that we can ever ask of passengers is to stay cool, stay calm ... which you did," he said. "And for that we thank you."

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