SQ321 Pilot Becomes Hero, Highlights Importance of Seat Belts

SQ321 Pilot Becomes Hero, Highlights Importance of Seat Belts

KUALA LUMPUR: The pilot of Singapore Airlines SQ321 is hailed as a true hero after his quick actions saved 228 people on board when the flight encountered turbulence, an incident that underscored the critical importance of wearing seat belts.

According to aviation studies, today’s skies are 55 percent more turbulent than four decades ago.

Malaysian student Dzafran Azmir, 29, along with another SQ321 passenger, recounted how those not wearing seat belts were thrown into the air, hitting the ceiling.

Approximately 30 passengers were injured on the flight from London to Singapore. Unfortunately, a 75-year-old British citizen died of a heart attack.

The pilot’s swift actions enabled the aircraft to make an emergency landing at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.

Just 90 minutes before reaching its destination and flying over the Irrawaddy Basin at an altitude of 37,000 feet, about 10 hours after takeoff, the majority of passengers had not fastened their seat belts when the aircraft reached cruising speed and the seat belt sign was turned off.

Despite public service announcements by pilots on all flights urging air travelers to keep their seat belts fastened while seated, passengers have become accustomed to unbuckling their seat belts until the plane is about to land or when turbulence is detected.

However, in the case of SQ321, there was no warning of any turbulence until it shook the Boeing 777-300ER, which had 18 crew members including pilots and 211 passengers.

While turbulence in the form of extreme weather conditions is common, the pilot’s quick decision-making saved the plane, stabilized it, and ensured a safe landing.

Investigations into the incident may take months, but the clearest feedback from passengers is the importance of adhering to safety procedures at all times.

Many passengers still take safety demonstrations by flight attendants lightly, browsing magazines, gazing out the window, or sleeping.

Yet, those few minutes can make a significant difference in an emergency, especially when the pilot announces to fasten seat belts.

Although fatalities related to air turbulence are rare and turbulence itself is usually a minor incident, unpredictable air movements pose a threat to passengers.

One such incident is called “Clear Air Turbulence (CAT),” which occurs suddenly in cloud-free skies without any visual indicators like cloud formations.

This unexpected situation prevents pilots from responding quickly. FlightRadar24 showed that SQ321 was cruising at 37,000 feet over the Andaman Sea, off the coast of Myanmar, after 9 am British Summer Time (BST) when it suddenly dropped 6,000 feet, which experts believe was the pilot’s response to the turbulence.

President of the Thai Pilots Association, Captain Teerawat Angkasakulkiat, reportedly said such situations are impossible to predict, especially when the sky is clear and the aircraft radar does not detect anything unusual.

Similarly, Associate Professor Mohd Harridon Mohamed Suffian of the Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology at Universiti Kuala Lumpur (Aviation and Aerospace) acknowledged that certain CAT situations are hard to detect, as in the case of SQ321, which is why the pilot’s quick actions should be commended.

“However, it would be beneficial for airlines to be proactive and implement the Mathematical Model of Probability Approach to calculate the likelihood of turbulence in specific areas that are typically prone to turbulence,” he told Bernama.

Mohd Harridon emphasized that climate change also contributes to such incidents.

“Climate change contributes to such occurrences as it randomly creates differential pressure areas, making the magnitude and direction of the wind unpredictable, thus making weather patterns hard to forecast,” he said.

Captain Dave Wallsworth, an experienced pilot, said on his X account @DaveWallsworth that the incident on the SIA flight is very rare considering the number of flights worldwide every day.

However, it also serves as a reminder that flying is a dynamic situation, and pilots must deal with nature, including weather conditions, in an ever-changing environment, he said.

Therefore, it is important to keep seat belts fastened even when the warning sign is off.

“It’s not inconvenient and can prevent serious injury if turbulence occurs. But always remember, flying is still the safest way to travel, and we, as your crew, will always do our best to keep you (and ourselves) safe,” he said.

– Agency

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