At least two crew members were injured and several passengers were sent to the hospital yesterday after the cockpit window of a passenger jet shattered mid-flight.
The windshield blew out just after Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633 had reached cruising altitude at around 32,000 feet (9,750 meters) above the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, roughly 100 kilometers into its journey. The plane had been traveling at 800 to 900 kilometers per hour when the windshield suddenly broke.
The plane, which was carrying 119 passengers and en route to Lhasa from Chongqing, was forced to make an emergency landing in Chengdu just before 8am on Monday.
A view of the cockpit after the flight landed. Image via Global Times
The co-pilot and a flight attendant sustained minor injuries as a result of the incident.
The flight's captain, Liu Chuanjian, was praised online for his heroic actions, which helped save his co-pilot's life.
Liu had just leveled his aircraft at a cruising altitude of 32,000 feet when a deafening sound tore through the cockpit. He looked over and saw the right side of the windshield gone.
"There was no warning sign. Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window," Liu told Chengdu Economic Daily after making an emergency landing, saving the lives of all 119 passengers.
"Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air. Most of the equipment malfunctioned ... and I couldn't hear the radio. The flight was shaking so hard I could not read the gauges," he said.
As -40 C winds blew through the cockpit, Liu was able to grab his co-pilot, whose body was halfway outside the plane. Liu then grabbed the co-pilot and strapped him back into his seat.
Liu also told media that the extreme change in cabin pressure was "very uncomfortable" and that it felt like "driving at 200 kilometers per hour at the temperature of -5 C," Global Times reports.
The co-pilot received a cut to his face and also suffered a sprained wrist, according to China Daily. A flight attendant also sustained minor injuries, while 29 passengers were sent to the hospital upon landing. The remaining passengers were transfered to another flight.
Passengers described scenes of chaos in the cabin after the plane took a brief nosedive lasting five to six seconds. The windshield had cracked and fallen out just as passengers were being served breakfast.
Passenger Zeng Jun described the scene in an interview with Chengdu Economic Daily as "too scary and too dangerous". People were screaming, while bags and trays were flying everywhere, he said.
He recalled grabbing one of the oxygen masks that fell from overhead as a flight attendant began telling passengers to trust in the flight team. "When we finally landed, some of the women were in tears," he said.
Another passenger told media that "there was a feeling of weightlessness" and that "many cried and vomited," according to the Global Times.
Image via ECNS
Liu managed to land the flight quickly and safely at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport just 45 minutes after the windshield broke. According to the Global Times, experts say Liu was lucky to make the landing that he did, as strong airflow into the cabin could have hit at speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour, coming straight at the pilots. They likely would not have been able to stand up or communicate properly in the cockpit. Even more miraculously, Liu emerged from the incident unscathed.
Chinese social media users praised Liu as an "epic hero" for his actions.
"I've got to say, this captain is awesome!" the Global Times quoted one Weibo user as saying. "This is what heroes are made of!"
An investigation into the incident is currently underway. Though an exact cause is yet unknown, an experienced captain told Sina that it may have been due to "poor screws, heating problems or a collision with birds."
[Top image via Global Times]