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One dead after Singapore Airlines hit by air turbulence, why it is rare?

A Singapore Airlines flight experienced severe turbulence during a London-Singapore journey, causing one fatality and injuries. The airline provided assistance, highlighting the rarity of turbulence-related fatalities.

By Ground report
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One dead after Singapore Airlines hit by air turbulence, why it is rare?

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A Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore encountered severe turbulence, resulting in the death of one passenger and injuries to several others. Flight SQ321, which departed from London on Monday, was diverted to Bangkok and landed safely on Tuesday afternoon.

In an official statement on social media, Singapore Airlines confirmed, “We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board the Boeing 777-300ER.” The airline emphasized its commitment to assisting all passengers and crew, stating, “Our priority is to provide all possible assistance to all passengers and crew on board the aircraft. We are working with the local authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary medical assistance and are sending a team to Bangkok to provide any additional assistance needed.”

The flight was carrying a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew members at the time of the incident. The nature of the turbulence, whether due to bad weather or clear air turbulence, which occurs in seemingly calm conditions, has not yet been clarified.

A Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore encountered severe turbulence, leading to one fatality and multiple injuries. Aviation Advocacy director Andrew Charlton told Al Jazeera that fatalities due to turbulence are "extremely rare."

The incident occurred as flight SQ321, a Boeing 777-300ER, was flying over a tropical area known for thunderstorms, which can cause turbulence. Charlton explained, “A change in air temperature, caused by a lower layer of air cooling down as the day ended and the night began, could also have led to severe turbulence.”

Singapore's Transport Minister, Chee Hong Tat, expressed his condolences, saying, “I am deeply saddened to learn about the incident onboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London Heathrow to Singapore. My deepest condolences to the family of the deceased.” Tracking data shows that the plane remained at 31,000 feet for approximately 10 minutes before rapidly descending into Bangkok.

Also read: How climate change has made flight air turbulence worse?

Turbulence, while rarely causing fatalities or endangering aircraft, is noted as the leading cause of non-fatal injuries to passengers and crew according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Researchers have indicated that turbulence is expected to worsen due to changes in weather patterns brought about by climate change. In 2022, IATA forecasted that the frequency of turbulence encounters by planes is likely to more than double in the coming years, with such incidents becoming “more severe and more damaging in its scale.”

How many people killed due to air turbulence so far?

Since 2009, turbulence-related incidents have resulted in the deaths of 38 individuals aboard private planes, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data reported by CNN.

Despite turbulence being a factor in 37.6% of all accidents on larger commercial airlines between 2009 and 2018, fatalities directly attributed to turbulence are rare.

According to a 2021 report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the majority of passengers who suffered serious injuries from turbulence were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the incident. This was frequently due to passengers being in the restroom or walking in the aisle when turbulence occurred.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data from last year reveals that from 2009 to 2021, turbulence caused 146 serious injuries in the US, comprising 30 passengers and 116 crew members.

Each year, around 65,000 aircraft in the US encounter moderate turbulence, with about 5,500 experiencing severe turbulence.

Ways turbulence can affect a flight

Turbulence can lead to various consequences, including damage to the aircraft structure, injuries to passengers or crew, hindrance in pilots' flight duties such as reading instruments, and sudden changes in altitude and airspeed.

According to NPR, citing Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading, light turbulence affects about 3% of the atmosphere at flight cruising levels, while moderate turbulence affects around 1%. Severe turbulence, however, is relatively rare, occurring only in a few tenths of a percent of the atmosphere

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