Malaysia Airlines passengers weep, pray as jet turns back in safety scare
A Malaysia Airlines plane with 166 people aboard was forced to make an emergency landing in Kuala Lumpur early yesterday, in another blow to the carrier's safety image after the loss of flight MH370.
Passengers wept or recited prayers after flight MH192, bound for Bangalore, India, turned back to Kuala Lumpur shortly after it was discovered that a tyre had burst on take-off.
"As safety is of utmost priority to Malaysia Airlines, the aircraft was required to turn back to KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport]," the airline said.
The episode caused deep anxiety among passengers as the plane circled for hours off the coast, Malaysian media reported.
The plane circled in order to dump fuel, a common practice in such landings, designed to make the plane lighter and minimise fire risks.
"The passengers were very scared when we learned that the flight was having trouble," the New Straits Times quoted a Dutch traveller as saying.
"Some were crying, while most of us had already started reciting prayers."
The plane landed safely at 1.56am, nearly four hours after take-off, and all 159 passengers and seven crew members disembarked, the airline said.
The airline said tyre debris discovered on the runway had led to the decision to bring the Boeing 737-800 aircraft back.
"They have landed safely - thank God," tweeted Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
The passengers were accommodated in local hotels until the flight's rescheduled take-off yesterday afternoon.
The incident came after a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Hong Kong on March 23 after an electrical generator failed on the two-year-old jet.
Malaysia Airlines is still reeling from the loss and presumed crash of MH370, which disappeared on March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Two-thirds of the planned underwater search for the Boeing 777 has been completed, with no signs of the jet so far, Australian officials said yesterday. The submarine drone Bluefin-21, which has been unsuccessfully scouring the Indian Ocean seabed for signs of wreckage, has about 310 square kilometres of its search remaining.
The US Navy submersible is searching an area 4,500 metres deep where the last "ping" consistent with the plane's black box recorders was heard on April 8. It is believed the black box batteries have died.
The Australian agency said yesterday's visual search, being conducted by planes and ships, would cover 49,491 square kilometres. The weather in the region, about 1,800 kilometres west of Perth, was forecast to deteriorate as Tropical Cyclone Jack continues its track southwards, search authorities said.