A Singapore Airlines flight encountered ‘severe turbulence’ over Thailand, killing one passenger and injuring 30 others.

A Singapore Airlines flight making an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday hit an air pocket in Thai airspace before colliding with turbulence, killing one person and seriously injuring seven, a senior airport official said.

A 73-year-old British man died in the incident, probably from a heart attack, while seven people suffered head injuries, Suvarnabhumi airport general manager Kittipong Kittikachorn said. One crew member is hospitalised, he added.

The aircraft’s outside looks OK, but the inside is a mess,’ Kittipong said.

The damaged cabin of a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which encountered severe turbulence over Thailand, after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)

Singapore Airlines (SIA) said Flight SQ321 was travelling from London to Singapore when it encountered ‘severe turbulence’.

‘We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board the Boeing 777-300ER. A total of 211 passengers and 18 crew members were on board,’ the airline said in a statement.

In an update at 7:50 pm, the carrier said, ’18 people have been hospitalised. Another 12 people are being treated at hospitals. If necessary, the remaining passengers and crew members are being examined and treated at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

The nationalities and injuries of those hospitalised were not specified. According to Flight Aware, flight SQ321 took off from London Heathrow at 10:38 pm local time on Monday and landed at Bangkok’s main international airport at 3:45 pm.

Airports Company of Thailand, which operates Suvarnabhumi Airport, said it had implemented an emergency protocol after air traffic controllers received a request from the SIA plane’s pilot. According to local media reports, more than ten ambulances have been deployed to transport injured passengers from the airport to Samitivej Hospital.

Ambulances and rescue vehicles are parked next to a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Singapore

Data on Flight Radar 24, a website collecting public flight information, shows that about 11 hours after leaving London, the plane went from a cruising altitude of 11,300 metres to about 9,450 metres in just a few minutes.

According to passenger Zafran Azmir, there was no warning that chaos would erupt on board the aircraft.

With about three hours left on the flight from London to Singapore, the Malaysian student had a disturbing sensation that the plane was tilting and beginning to shake. The 28-year-old student stood up and checked to see if he was buckled up. He was, but many other passengers were not, he told Reuters.

‘All of a sudden, there was a very sharp drop, and everyone who was seated and not wearing seatbelts was immediately thrown towards the ceiling; some people hit their heads on the top of the baggage compartment and punched through it; they hit the places where the lamps and masks are and punched through them,’ Azmir said.

‘People were falling to the ground, my phone flew out of my hand and flew a couple of aisles away, people’s shoes were flying off,’ he added.

‘It was the crew members and people in the toilets who were hurt the most because we found people who were just lying on the ground and couldn’t get up. There were a lot of spinal and head injuries,’ Azmir said.

The captain informed the passengers they had to make an emergency landing in Bangkok. Once the plane was on the tarmac, nurses and rescue workers approached to examine the injured.

‘I don’t think they realised how bad it was,’ Azmir said.

The interior of a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft after an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)

Ambulances arrived later, and Azmir said he saw at least eight people on stretchers being pulled out of emergency exits. He said it took 90 minutes to evacuate the aircraft.

Fatalities are extremely rare in turbulence, especially at cruising altitudes. The airline has not yet released details of the incident. Air carriers constantly warn passengers to wear seatbelts, even if the seatbelt sign is off, as unexpected turbulence can occur.

‘Singapore Airlines extends its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. We deeply apologise for the trauma experienced by our passengers and crew on this flight. We are providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time,’ the airline said.

‘We are working with our colleagues and local authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary assistance. A Singapore Airlines team is travelling to Bangkok to provide any additional assistance required.’

The aircraft on flight SQ321 was 16 years old and was one of 23 Boeing 777-300ERs in SIA’s fleet. The last fatal accident involving a Singapore Airlines aircraft was in October 2000, when the plane crashed on a closed runway during takeoff in Taiwan, killing 83 people. According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been seven accidents in the carrier’s history.

The airline has set up a hotline for relatives seeking information at +65-6542-3311.

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