16 hurt as Ryanair plunges 8,000 metres
Passengers travelling from Bristol to Barcelona thought they were going to die when the budget plane plunges 8,000 metres over France.26 August 2008
LIMOGES -- Passengers on a Ryanair flight said Tuesday they thought they "were going to die" when the low-cost jet plunged 8,000 metres after a sudden loss of cabin pressure over France.
Sixteen people suffering from ear problems were taken to hospital after the plane made an emergency landing at Limoges airport in central France, Ryanair said.
The Boeing 737 was carrying 168 passengers and seven crew from Bristol in England to Barcelona in Spain when it suffered what police described as a "brutal decompression" just before midnight on Monday.
British Arctic explorer Pen Hadow, who was on board the flight, said passengers cried with relief as the plane landed safely at Limoges.
"I would say some people thought we were going to die," said Hadow, who was on the flight with his wife, Mary, son Wilf, 9, and daughter Freya, 6.
Wilf was one of the 16 people taken to hospital with ear problems. French officials had earlier said that 26 people went to hospital.
Officials in Limoges said the jet came down 8,000 metres in five minutes but that an initial inspection of the plane had not revealed any causes for the depressurisation.
Hadow described hearing a "loud and unnerving sound" as the cabin pressure dropped.
"It was obvious to me that there was depressurisation in the cabin, but there was no announcement and no evidence of the cabin crew for most of this experience. Why on earth didn't they give a few more calming words to the passengers?"
Hadow said several oxygen masks inside the cabin had failed to inflate.
He went on: "Mine wasn't filling up with oxygen and neither was my son's. He was hyperventilating. I looked at the lady on my left and hers hadn't filled up either."
But Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary insisted that "the oxygen masks were working, the correct safety procedures were followed."
Defending the crew's actions, he said it was not possible for them to make an announcement about the situation because safety regulations meant the pilots and cabin crew had to don oxygen masks themselves.
"They can't be making passenger announcements when they have their oxygen masks on.
"As the passengers confirmed, the pilot did make an announcement once he got down to 8,000 feet, where it is safe to take the oxygen masks off, that they were diverting to Limoges."
Around 100 of the passengers arrived at Barcleona-Girona airport on a replacement plane early Tuesday. Those who had to go to hospital were being taken from Limoges by coach.
Last Saturday, a plane carrying 130 passengers had to divert to a nearby French airport after the crew of the Boeing 737 owned by British no-frills airline easyJet reported smoke in the cockpit.
The plane, en route from London to Cagliari in Sardinia, landed at Nice in southeastern France where a stewardess was taken to hospital for tests after suffering breathing problems.
Last Wednesday, 154 people died in Spain's worst aviation accident in 25 years when a jet crashed off the runway at a Madrid airport moments after takeoff.
[AFP / Expatica]