CANBERRA, Australia — Passengers on an Indonesia AirAsia flight from Australia to the holiday island of Bali described a panicked flight crew announcing an emergency and oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling after their airliner lost cabin air pressure and rapidly descended.
Flight QZ535 returned safely on Sunday to the airport at Perth city where many of the 145 passengers spoke to media about the fear and confusion on board.
“The panic was escalated because of the behavior of staff who were screaming, looked tearful and shocked,” passenger Clare Askew told reporters.
“Now, I get it, but we looked to them for reassurance and we didn’t get any, we were more worried because of how panicked they were,” Askew added.
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The budget Indonesian airline said in a statement the pilot turned back “following a technical issue to ensure the safety of passengers.”
“We commend our pilots for landing the aircraft safely and complying with standard operating procedure,” AirAsia Group head of safety Captain Ling Liong Tien said.
“We are fully committed to the safety of our guests and crew and we will continue to ensure that we adhere to the highest safety standards,” he added.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, an accident investigator, said it was investigating the airliner’s depressurization at 34,000 feet (10,363 meters).
The plane rapidly descended to around 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), an altitude to which cabins are pressurized and at which oxygen masks are no longer needed.
Data from FlightRadar, a website which tracks flights globally using GPS, shows the plane descended 23,800 feet (7,250 meters) in the space of nine minutes.
Perth Airport said in a statement that emergency services were on hand when the plane landed 78 minutes after it took off.
A passenger named Leah told Nine Network television: “I actually picked up my phone and sent a text message to my family, just hoping that they would get it.”
“We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other. It was really upsetting,” she added.
Passenger Mark Bailey told Seven Network television: “Hostesses started screaming: ‘Emergency, emergency.’ They just went hysterical.”
“There was no real panic before that, then everyone panicked,” Bailey added.
Passenger Norman Pearce told Seven the flight crew said: “Emergency. Crash positions and that was it. Nothing for about five minutes and then the oxygen fell down.”
Peter Gibson, spokesman for Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian industry regulator, said the airline had been asked for information on what occurred on board.
“Our job as the regulator is to gather information on these sorts of events and review that to see whether we’re satisfied that everything was managed properly and determine whether we should dig any deeper,” Gibson said.
A Malaysia-based AirAsia X flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur turned back in June after one of the Airbus 330’s engines failed. An aircrew member was criticized for suggesting that passengers pray.
In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 162 passengers and crew on board.
Indonesia AirAsia said passengers on the Sunday’s aborted flight had been transferred to the next available flight and “provided with all necessary assistance.”
“The safety of passengers and crew is our priority,” the airline said. “AirAsia apologizes to passengers for any inconvenience caused.”