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Turbulence on Singapore Airlines Flight Results in One Fatality and Multiple Injuries

A Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore experienced severe turbulence on Tuesday, resulting in the tragic death of one passenger and injuries to dozens of others. The incident underscores the potential dangers of air travel turbulence, even as airlines and aircraft are designed to handle such conditions.

Flight SQ321, a Boeing 777-300ER, departed from London Heathrow Airport at 10:38 p.m. local time on Monday. Approximately 10 hours into the flight, the aircraft encountered sudden, extreme turbulence while cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet over southern Myanmar. The turbulence was likely caused by rapidly developing thunderstorms typical of the region during this time of year. The storm cells over the Irrawaddy Delta rapidly grew from 20,000 to 50,000 feet within an hour, creating hazardous flying conditions.

The turbulence caused the plane to rapidly change altitude, dipping and climbing by several hundred feet within a 90-second span. This severe disturbance led to the death of a 73-year-old British passenger, who likely suffered a heart attack, and injuries to 71 others. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 3:45 p.m. local time on Tuesday, where emergency services were waiting.

Kittipong Kittikachorn, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, reported that seven passengers were critically injured, while others suffered from broken bones, head wounds, and lacerations. The injuries were primarily due to passengers not wearing seat belts when the turbulence struck.

Singapore Airlines swiftly dispatched a team to Bangkok to assist the affected passengers and support local authorities. The airline provided a relief flight to transport 131 passengers and 12 crew members to Singapore, where they were met by the company’s CEO, Goh Choon Phong. In a Facebook post, Goh expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the deceased passenger and apologized for the trauma experienced by all on board.

The Singapore Transport Ministry has launched an investigation into the incident, collaborating with Thai authorities and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which has sent a team to support the investigation.

Passengers described a chaotic scene inside the cabin, with some hitting their heads on the overhead compartments, causing significant damage. Andrew Davies, a British passenger, noted that the seatbelt sign was on, but the turbulence struck so suddenly that even the crew, who were serving food at the time, were caught off guard and injured.

Experts explained that turbulence is often caused by rapid irregular motion of air, such as that found in thunderstorms or near jet streams. While most turbulence is mild, severe cases, especially those involving clear air turbulence, can escalate quickly and unpredictably. Aviation expert Paul Weatherilt emphasized the importance of wearing seat belts at all times during a flight to prevent injuries during unexpected turbulence.

Incidents like this highlight the increasing challenge of managing turbulence in air travel. Studies have shown that severe turbulence events are becoming more frequent due to climate change, which is causing jet streams to become more unpredictable. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other aviation authorities continue to stress the importance of passenger safety protocols, such as keeping seat belts fastened whenever seated.

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