An AirAsia flight bound for Kuala Lumpur was forced to return to its departure city of Perth, Australia on Sunday after the Airbus A330-300 passenger jet began shaking due to a “technical failure,” according to an airline spokesperson.
AirAsia Flight D7237 departed from Perth at 6:40 a.m. with 359 passengers onboard. The flight was operated by AirAsia X, the long-haul arm of AirAsia, one of the largest low-cost airlines in the world.
The airliner was reportedly just about to fly over the Indian Ocean when one of the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines experienced a mechanical issue. “We were asleep and heard a loud bang around the 1-hour-and-15-minute mark,” said passenger Damien Stevens.
A loud banging noise at 30,000 feet is just about the last thing those aboard the international flight wanted to hear. Moments later, the AirAsia pilot said the second-to-last thing passengers wanted to hear: pray.
“I hope you all say a prayer,” the AirAsia pilot reportedly said while steering the airliner back to Perth. According to Stevens, the pilot twice urged passengers to pray. “Please pay attention … And also please listen to everything. Our survival depends on your cooperation,” the pilot reportedly told the passenger cabin.
Video footage captured by a terrified passenger shows the seats and overhead storage bins violently shaking during the flight back to Perth. Many onboard were seen crying, clutching their life jackets.
“It shook for the whole ride back, close on two hours,” Stevens said. “It was really shaky, very scary.”
Passengers were told to hold “the brace position” for about two minutes while the plane was on approach to land back at Perth Airport. According to CNN, the pilot landed the plane safely and the passenger cabin erupted in applause once the plane was on the ground.
Planes like the Airbus A330 that experienced the AirAsia engine failure, are designed to maintain flight and land safely with only one engine in operation. But according to aviation attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman, that doesn’t make the situation any less harrowing for the passengers aboard the plane.
“While these planes are designed to be able to fly on one engine in the event of failure of the other, the trauma experienced by the passengers can last a lifetime,” Goldman said.
Mr. Goldman represents over 30 passengers that experienced an eerily similar in-flight incident involving a JetBlue plane that suffered an inflight breakup of engine turbine blades. According to Mr. Goldman, the engine turbine blades failed due to fatigue fracture resulting from improper assembly of the blades by the manufacturer.
While it is currently unclear what caused the AirAsia mechanical failure, any imbalance within a fast-spinning engine can cause the kind of violent shaking that occurred on AirAsia Flight D7237.
AirAsia Recent Incident History
Sunday’s inflight incident is not the first for AirAsia. Over the past three years, the Malaysia-based low-cost airline has been involved in several incidents:
2014 AirAsia Crash Kills 162 People
On December 28, 2014, an AirAsia flight from Indonesia to Singapore stalled at high altitude and crashed. All 162 passengers and flight crew members aboard the plane were killed in the crash.
In their final report on the 2014 AirAsia crash, investigators indicated that the Airbus A320 plane had a faulty rudder limiter, which went unrepaired for 12 months before the fatal crash. The pilot of the ill-fated flight was also partly blamed for the crash.
AirAsia Pilot Enters Wrong Coordinates
On March 10, 2015, an AirAsia X flight from Sydney, Australia to Malaysia was forced to make an emergency in Melbourne landing after the pilots experienced flight navigation issues. A subsequent investigation revealed that the pilot entered the wrong departure flight path just before the plane departed. The plane landed safely in Melbourne with no injuries.
AirAsia Plane Flies Too Low During Approach to Perth Airport
On February 19, 2016, an AirAsia plane dropped roughly 980 feet below its flight path during approach to Perth Airport. Investigators said at one point, the plane was as low as 1,500 feet near the Royal Perth Yacht Club. The drastic drop in altitude, which came amid severe turbulence, forced air traffic controllers to issue a “low altitude warning” and told the pilots to abort the landing. The plane eventually landed safely.
AirAsia X Flight Suffers ‘Loss of Separation’ in Near Miss with Incoming Jetstar Plane
On July 21, 2016, an AirAsia X flight departing from Gold Coast Airport in Australia suffered a “loss of separation” with an incoming Jetstar plane. According to reports, the planes came within roughly 590 feet of one another after the AirAsia plane climbed too quickly. Both planes received a traffic collision avoidance system alert, and the Jetstar plane entered into a climb to increase separation. No injuries were reported in the incident.