Hero pilots bask in public acclaim as investigators hunt for clues as to why Chinese airliner’s windscreen blew out in mid-air
While most commentators focused on the flight crew’s feat in saving their plane, the authorities are starting to look into the causes of the accident
China’s aviation authorities have started their investigation into the cause of an accident that caused a plane’s windscreen to blow away in mid-air as the two pilots basked in near universal acclaim for safely landing the flight.
A day after Monday’s incident, some state media outlets warned that the chorus of praise should not deflect people from finding the cause of the accident.
Central and local civil aviation authorities are examining the causes along with a team from Airbus, the aircraft’s manufacturer, after Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8633 flying from Chongqing to Lhasa was forced to land at Chengdu airport in southwestern China.
The co-pilot Xu Ruichen was sucked halfway out of the cockpit in the incident, but because of his seat belt he escaped with only cuts to the face.
A cabin attendant also suffered a back injury, but there were no other reported injuries to the 119 passengers and nine crew members on board.
Pilot Liu Chuanjian told local media that the incident had happened at cruising altitude of 9,750 metres (32,000 feet) and he explained that had to quickly bring the aircraft closer to earth. With the help of his co-pilot he had to steer it to the nearest airport manually because the automatic systems had stopped working due to the sudden loss of pressure in the cabin.
The Civil Aviation Administration said in a press conference on Tuesday that the broken screen was an original part of the aircraft and there had been no record of malfunctioning since airlines started using it in 2011.
It said a preliminary investigation pointed to design and manufacturing flaws.
While the investigation continues, the airlines, authorities and local media have all lavished praise on the pilots for safely landing their flight after a 20-minute struggle with the loss of cabin pressure and temperatures that had suddenly dropped to well below freezing.
“The crew remained calm while facing danger and reacted decisively and correctly, thereby avoiding a major disaster. They showed a high level of technical skill and professionalism,” an official from the administration said.
In a statement issued early Tuesday morning, the airlines also praised the crew for its proper response of the accident, but did not mention how the investigation was progressing.
The state news agency Xinhua reminded readers in a story on Tuesday not to let the acclaim for the flight crew obscure the pursuit of the cause of the accident.
“It was very fortunate that no casualties were caused in the accident. Public opinion was one-sided, with praise for captain Liu Chuanjian’s proper reaction prevailing,” Xinhua said.
“This is a rare incident in civil aviation history, something that a pilot ‘wouldn’t even think of during training’. Why did it happen to Sichuan Airlines?” it asked.