The pilots of a packed Air France flight from Beijing to Paris were forced to declare a ‘mayday’ and make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff after an ‘explosion’ in the cabin sent passengers scrambling for safety as flight attendants jumped up from their seats armed with fire extinguishers.
The 17-year-old Boeing 777 jet was operating Air France flight AF393 from Beijing’s Capital International Airport in the early hours of Saturday morning for what should have been an 11-hour flight to Paris.
According to several passenger reports, just one minute after takeoff, there was a loud explosion in the rear cabin followed by reports of black smoke. Some passengers described the explosion as a ‘boom’ sound that sent flight attendants rushing to the scene.
The noise came from around row 52 and flight attendants tore away seat cushions in an attempt to find the source of a potential fire as a burning smell developed throughout the cabin. Despite their best efforts, no fire could actually be found and the pilots diverted straight back to Beijing.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Air France 393, we have fire on board, we are turning left to land back on 36 left, immediate landing, fire on board,” one of the pilots reported in a recorded exchange with air traffic control that was leaked soon after the incident.
Despite being weighed down with jet fuel for the long flight to France, the pilots got the plane down as quickly as possible over fears that there was a hidden fire somewhere on the plane that flight attendants couldn’t find.
Flight attendants prepared for an emergency evacuation as the cabin temperature began to dramatically rise and the burning smell got more intense as the plane came into land. The flight crew, however, stopped short of ordering an evacuation via emergency slides.
Initial reports suggest that the explosion was actually an air conditioning duct rupturing. Air France has simply reported a “technical incident” as the reason for the return of the jet.
State-affiliated newspaper, the Global Times reported a fire onboard although initial reports of fire proved to be inaccurate. No injuries have been reported and Air France has sent a replacement jet to pick up passengers.
September is typically a busy month for flights between China and Europe, even during pandemic times, as Chinese students descend on universities across the continent.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.