Singapore’s transport investigators in Bangkok to probe SQ321 incident

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 had experienced turbulence on May 21 over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar, about 10 hours after leaving London. - PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Officers from Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) have arrived in the Thai capital Bangkok to investigate the sudden extreme turbulence that hit Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321, leaving one passenger dead and dozens injured.

The Singapore-bound Boeing 777-300ER had experienced turbulence on May 21 over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar, about 10 hours after leaving London.

The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the widebody jet with 211 passengers and 18 crew to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport at 3.45pm (4.45pm Singapore time).

Singapore Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat, in a Facebook post on May 22, said the TSIB officers arrived in Bangkok on the night of May 21.

TSIB is a department of the Ministry of Transport (MOT) responsible for investigating air, marine and rail accidents and incidents.

Apart from aircraft incidents in Singapore, TSIB probes overseas incidents involving Singapore-registered aircraft or aircraft run by a Singapore operator.

Chee added: “As this incident involves a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, the United States’ National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending an accredited representative and four technical advisers to support the investigation.”

US-based Boeing, the manufacturer of the SIA plane, said it was in contact with the airline about SQ321 and it stands ready to support SIA.

NTSB had investigated other high-profile aviation incidents, such as when a cabin panel blew out on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on Jan 5.

Mr Chee thanked the Thai authorities for their support in evacuating the passengers and crew, providing medical help and looking after those affected.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said on May 22 that it is working with MOT, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Changi Airport officials and SIA staff to support affected passengers and crew as well as their families.

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, in a Facebook post on May 22, said he was relieved to hear that 143 passengers and crew aboard SQ321 have returned safely to Singapore on a relief flight.

“On behalf of the government and people of Singapore, I thank the authorities in Thailand for their support in providing medical assistance and looking after the affected passengers and crew,” he wrote on Facebook.

“My deepest condolences once again to the family and loved ones of the deceased. I also hope and pray that those who are injured will recover and return home soon.”

Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong also offered his deepest condolences to the family of the passenger who died.

He wrote on Facebook: “My thanks to everyone here and overseas who are doing their best to help those affected, and I wish the injured passengers and crew a quick recovery.”

The 211 passengers on SQ321 included 41 Singaporeans, with the remaining 170 from countries such as Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Britain.

The dead passenger has been identified as a 73-year-old Briton, Mr Geoff Kitchen. He was a retired insurance professional and musical theatre director at the time of his death, according to British media reports.

The father-of-two and his wife, who was also on the flight and later taken to hospital, were en route to a six-week holiday and were intending to visit Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Australia.

At about 5am on May 22, 131 passengers and 12 crew members who were on board SQ321 were flown back to Singapore.

Another 79 passengers and six crew members remain in Bangkok, said SIA. They include those receiving medical care, as well as their family members and loved ones who were on the flight.

The airline said on May 21 that 18 passengers had been hospitalised, with another 12 receiving treatment for their injuries in hospitals. The remaining passengers and crew members were examined and treated at the airport.

Passengers described the chaos on board as the plane plunged without warning midway through a routine breakfast service, throwing items and passengers up and around the cabin.

The bout of severe turbulence left a scene of chaos in the plane, with dents in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling, and luggage strewn about. - The Straits Times/ANN

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