As airplane emergencies go, they don’t come much more serious than this… An airplane cabin filled with thick toxic smoke after one of the engines caught fire and a warning of smoke in the cargo hold (suggesting that there could be a deep-seated fire).
Nonetheless, these grave circumstances weren’t enough to prevent passengers onboard an Air China plane that had just carried out an emergency landing at Singapore Changi International Airport on Sunday afternoon from leaping onto the evacuation slides with their luggage.
The pilots of Air China flight CA403 from the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province declared an emergency just before landing following an otherwise uneventful four-and-a-half-hour flight to Singapore.
Initially, all the pilots knew was that there was a smoke warning in the forward cargo hold and lavatory, but in the cabin, thick smoke was making it hard for passengers to see, and once on the ground, a fire in the left-hand engine was clearly visible.
An evacuation was ordered, and passengers were told to leave everything behind, but instead, many stopped to take their personal belongings. In one video taken by a passenger who had already got off the burning plane, a man is seen leaping down the emergency slide with a large silver suitcase.
In a statement, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore confirmed that, mercifully, only nine of the 146 passengers onboard sustained minor injuries from smoke inhalation and abrasions during the evacuation.
All nine crew members onboard escaped unscathed.
In a statement on its Weibo social media page, Air China said its crew dealt with the emergency according to the airline’s procedures but that the cause of the incident was still under investigation.
The aircraft was a four-year-old Airbus A320neo fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines. As air to the cabin is supplied from inlets fitted to the engine, smoke from the burning engine would have been sucked into the air conditioning system which then filled the cabin with smoke.
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.