Govt orders probe into crisis on Jet Airways flight, 35 passengers suffered bleeding
What should have been an uneventful 105-minute hop from Mumbai to Jaipur turned into a nightmare for 166 passengers Jet Airways flight 9W 697, after the crew forgot to turn on the so-called “bleed switch” resulting in a drop in cabin pressure that caused headaches, and bleeding noses and ears and forcing the flight to return to Mumbai. It was all over in 48 minutes but it left the passengers scared and mentally scarred and prpmoted the civil aviation minister to set up a probe.
The flight’s cockpit crew has been taken off scheduled duties pending investigation.
The pilot in command (PIC) of the flight had an experience of 14 years with five years as a commander.
The incident, possibly the first of its kind in India, saw emergency masks being automatically deployed and 30 passengers being rushed to a hospital for treatment.
Experts said fluctuations in air pressure inside aircraft cabins is not unusual but it is rare for cabin pressure to change drastically because of human error.
9W697, carrying 166 passengers and five crew members, was originally scheduled to depart at 5.55am, but took off at 6.16am.
According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the crew forgot to select the bleed switch during the climb due to which cabin pressure could not be maintained, causing discomfort to passengers. The flight returned to the airport at around 7.04 am. Minister of civil aviation Suresh Prabhu has instituted an investigation into the incident by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.
“The 9W 697 Mumbai-Jaipur flight was turned back to Mumbai after takeoff as, during the climb, crew forgot to select switch to maintain cabin pressure. This resulted in the oxygen masks dropping. Thirty out of 166 passengers experienced nose and ear bleeding, some also complained of headache,” Lalit Gupta, deputy director general, DGCA said. Jet Airways, in a statement, said it would assist DGCA in the investigation. “Following the air-turn back of Jet Airways’ flight of 20th September, 2018; 144 of the 166 guests of the original flight traveled to Jaipur via an alternative flight of the airline, while 17 of them wished to travel at another point in time. 5 guests who were referred to a hospital for additional medical check-up accompanied by the Jet Airways’ Care team have since been released, post medical examination.” The airline didn’t apologise for the incident. Loss of cabin pressure could result in hypoxia or the deprivation of oxygen. In on extreme case in 2005, a Helios Airline flight crashed into a mountain after the pilots lost consciousness from hypoxia. Oxygen deprivation is also the cause of headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. A sudden drop in air pressure can be fatal for people with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension and cardiac anomalies, doctors said. “There is a cavity in our oral and nasal passages and sudden change in air pressure of the surroundings negatively impairs the internal air pressure maintained in these cavities, thus causing bleeding through nose, ears or mouth. At the same time, the sudden drop in the pressure and lack of oxygen supply to the brain can also cause strokes, paralysis or convulsions in some people,” said Dr Ashwinikumar Patil, assistant professor, neurology and stroke specialist at KEM Hospital.
Doctors said that the drop in air-pressure in the surrounding affects people differently. “While it usually causes heaviness in the head, dizziness and drowsiness in some, it can also be fatal for people with high blood pressure and a history of heart attacks,” Dr Patil added.
At the time of going to print, none of the passengers were planning to sue the airline for the incident. But one of the passengers, Ankur Kala, demanded compensation of Rs 30 lakh and 100 upgrade vouchers from the airline. Sources in the airline confirmed the passenger has asked for a compensation, threatening legal action against the airline if the demand was not met.
Sudhakar Reddy, president of Passengers Association of India, a body representing fliers, said: “Unfortunately , we do not have a fixed rule about the amount of compensation that has to be paid to passengers after such incidents. It is up to the airline to decide the quantum of compensation.”
Passengers reported that the pressure in the cabin dropped immediately after takeoff. One of the passengers, Amit Relan, an event management professional and a frequent flier, said, “The crew members could have handled the situation in a better manner. Though the affected passengers were made to deboard the aircraft on priority... We were clueless what was happening. We were not even offered a bottle of water....”
Airport officials said that, as a precautionary measure, senior citizens on the flight were advised to avoid travelling the same day. While most of the injured passengers were helped by doctors at the airport, five were taken to Dr Balabai Nanavati Hospital, Vile Parle, after they insisted that they be taken to a hospital for a thorough check up. The flight later took off for Jaipur at around 10.40am with a changed aircraft. All five were discharged later in the evening.
Aviation expert and former Air Force pilot Vipul Saxena said that such incidents were rare. He explained that the Bleed switch has to be kept on unless the aircraft has to take off from a short runway or a runway from a region with high atmospheric pressure. He added that by the time the aircraft reached 8000 ft, the switch has to be on, and that the pilot has to check this. “I am surprised why the pilot switched the bleed off while taking off from Mumbai and when he switched it off, why he did not switch it on,” said Saxena. “This points to two violations by pilots and poor compliance to procedures. An independent inquiry should be launched into the accident and exemplary punitive action should be taken.”