Anger after fire alarm causes Cathay flight to be aborted

Fire alarm forces flight to be aborted and passenger says the incident confirms his fears about ancient Boeing 777s used on regional routes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 6:40am

A Cathay Pacific plane with more than 200 passengers on board was forced to make an emergency landing in Bangkok after a fire alarm in its cargo hold went off minutes after it took off for Hong Kong.

Fire engines and emergency vehicles raced out to the Boeing 777-300, which was ordered to taxi to a remote part of the airfield after making a steep turn to touch back down in Bangkok just 29 minutes after it left.

Shaken passengers were kept on board for 90 minutes after Wednesday morning's drama as firemen checked the plane before they were taken back to the airport and made to wait for hours before being put on alternative flights.

A regular flier sitting in the front on flight CX700, which had 206 passengers, recounted the drama yesterday and said the incident confirmed his concerns about the older Boeing 777 planes used on regional routes.

The passenger, who asked not to be named, said: "We were only a few minutes into the flight when the pilot came onto the PA and said: 'We have a problem. We are going to have to return to Bangkok'.

"But then, in a somewhat terse voice, he said, 'All attendants to emergency posts'. As soon as he said that, everyone tensed up and I thought: 'This isn't good'.

"We proceeded to do a very sharp turn and then fly in a fairly direct line back to Bangkok airport. The landing was absolutely fine, but we landed surrounded by fire engines and ambulances.

"The captain said: 'We are safely on the ground. We have had an indication of a fire on board so we have been taken to a remote part of the airport and the fire services are doing an inspection of the plane'.

"There were no flames pouring out of the plane and it's entirely possible that it was something as simple as a defective light on a panel. As a passenger it's impossible to know. What I find frustrating is that since this happened, we have had no explanation, no e-mail, no phone call and no apology - nothing."

The passenger - a businessman who holds a Cathay Pacific Diamond Card reserved for the most frequent fliers - said: "I've told my secretary not to book me on the 777s. I get her to look at what planes they have on each flight and I normally won't fly if it's a 777.

"I've been worried about this for some time. I have felt these things are beyond serviceable. They are 20-plus years old and the airline has said in the past it would phase them out."

He added: "I have nothing but praise for the pilot and the crew. The pilot came across as very calm. He did the world's biggest U-turn but he did it with great aplomb.

"It's not the people that are the problem. It's the mechanical side of it. It's the fact that Cathay is maintaining a fleet that is inconsistent. You fly a brand new [Airbus] 330 and then a 20-year-old 777 on the same route one week after the next. That can't be maintainable."

In a written statement, a Cathay spokeswoman said: "Cathay Pacific confirms that flight CX700 from Bangkok to Hong Kong made a precautionary return to Bangkok after a cargo compartment fire warning light came on.

"The aircraft landed safely and responding agencies found no signs of smoke or fire in the compartment. Passengers have been accommodated on other Cathay Pacific flights or those of other airlines.

"Cathay Pacific's flight CX700 was a continuation of its flight from Colombo to Bangkok. The airline apologises for the inconvenience caused to passengers on these flights."

The spokeswoman said that the aircraft was returned to service on Friday and the cause of the incident was still being investigated.

"Safety is our top priority at all times and all our aircraft are safe," she said.