A flight from Hong Kong to Dalian, in northeast China, on Tuesday plunged a terrifying 6,000 meters in mere moments after losing air pressure when one of the pilots decided to vape in the cockpit, China’s aviation authority revealed today.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said that the co-pilot of Air China flight CA106, which China News reported was carrying 153 passengers and nine cabin crew, was smoking an e-cigarette when he decided to flip two switches he thought were air-recycling fans. They were not.
Instead, he turned off aircraft’s air-conditioning unit, which lowered oxygen levels, triggering an alarm that resulted in the crew releasing the plane’s oxygen masks and a rapid descent to a height of 3,000 meters. The CAC also said smoke had “diffused” into the passenger cabin.
“Smoke diffused into the passenger cabin and relevant air conditioning components were wrongly shut off, without notifying the captain, which resulted in insufficient oxygen,” Qiao Yibin, from the CAAC’s safety office told reporters.
When the plane’s crew discovered what had happened, they turned the air-conditioning back on, which allowed cabin pressure to return to normal, at which point the plane reascended to an elevation of 7,500 meters.
It arrived at its destination with what was described as a “less-than-adequate” oxygen level in the cabin.
Air China posted on the mainland’s Twitter-like website Weibo on Wednesday that the crew of flight CA106 were now being investigated by the CAAC, and vowed a “zero tolerance” approach should they uncover any wrongdoing.
The CAAC confirmed at the press conference that their investigation into the crew was ongoing, and was analyzing the plane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
The incident came to light after video posted online by mainland newspaper Beijing News showed a flight attendant walking up and down the plane to check on passengers as a pre-recorded announcement in Mandarin and English can be heard telling them to place the oxygen masks on their faces.
A male passenger on the flight surnamed Wang told the Beijing News: “According to the GPS on my phone, the plane kept moving at around 3,000 to 4,000 meters high.”
Another male passenger on the flight surnamed Sun said that he was very frightened when the air conditioners on the plane stopped.
The incident also ignited anger among China’s netizens, with most saying the pilot should be jailed.
As anyone who has been on a plane would know, smoking is not allowed during the flight.