Depressurized AirAsia Aircraft Drops 20,000 Feet, Panic Ensues
AirAsia Indonesia Flight 535 rapidly descended about 20,000 feet on Sunday before making an emergency landing, causing panic onboard — not just among passengers but also among the crew. The Airbus A320 took off from Perth (PER) bound for Denpasar, Bali (DPS) when about 25 minutes into the flight, the pressure in the cabin dropped and the aircraft plummeted.
The A320 (registration PK-AXD, built in 2005 according to Airfleets.net) reportedly faced depressurization just after it had reached cruising altitude. It then quickly plummeted in altitude before landing safely back at PER. Data on FlightRadar24 shows that the aircraft plummeted from 33,925 feet to 10,125 feet in 11 minutes. One passenger said that because of the aircraft's rapid descent, passengers feared for the worst and were saying goodbye to each other.
According to 7 News in Australia, passengers weren't alarmed solely because of the drop in altitude, but also because the crew was reportedly in a state of panic. Oxygen masks were deployed and crew members instructed travelers to get down and brace for impact.
"The panic was escalated because of the behavior of the staff, who were screaming and looked tearful and shocked," said Clare Askew, a passenger on board QZ535. "We looked to them for reassurance and we didn't get any. We were more worried because of how panicked they were."
The sudden drop in altitude is standard procedure when an aircraft experiences depressurization. When cruising at 33,000 feet, the altitude at which QZ535 was flying, if a cabin experiences depressurization, oxygen masks are required. However, at around 10,000 feet, oxygen masks are no longer needed. So, the aircraft quickly descended in altitude in order to give passengers in the depressurized cabin breathable air.
AirAsia said the flight experienced a "technical issue," and did not elaborate exactly what went wrong. In a statement, the carrier said it's fully committed to the safety of passengers, and it apologizes for any inconvenience.
The Australian Civi Aviation Safety Authority said that the regulator has asked AirAsia for information on what happened on board.
The carrier said that all passengers who were on board QZ535 were accommodated on the next available flight to DPS and were "provided with all necessary assistance."
In June, an AirAsia X flight experienced a mechanical issue, resulting in the pilot telling passengers to "say a prayer." That flight landed without further incident.