In another terrifying episode of airline depressurization, a Chinese Sichuan Airlines co-pilot was partially sucked out of a plane on Monday after a part of the aircraft’s windshield blew out.
An Airbus A319 was cruising at 32,000 feet en route to Tibet when, according to Reuters, the windshield cracked with a deafening bang, the equipment failed, the pressure dropped, and the plane plummeted into a free fall.
“When I looked over to my side, half of my co-pilot’s body was hanging out of the window,” the pilot told Chinese media.
The co-pilot was being held in the plane by his seat belt, and the pilot, Liu Chuanjian, said he pulled the co-pilot back into the airplane. After a few seconds, the plane pulled out of the free fall but continued to lurch and shake, and the pilot made an emergency landing in the city of Chengdu.
The airline said that the co-pilot suffered only scratches and a sprained wrist. The passengers and crew members inside the cabin described a chaotic scene in which the meals the attendants were serving were thrown about and the stewardesses themselves were tossed into the air. Twenty-nine of the 119 people on board were sent to the hospital for examination, but none were injured, according to the New York Times. One crew member in the cabin was injured in the descent.
While these incidents of explosive depressurization are rare, they can often end with passengers or crew members being sucked out the plane. As Daniel Engber explained in Slate after a much less dramatic incident in 2005, these incidents occur when a plane is flying at a high altitude and the decompression happens very suddenly, usually from a large rupture to the plane’s window or body.
In April, a woman on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas was partially sucked out of the plane after debris from a broken engine had blown out a window. Passengers were able to pull her back in, but she died from injuries she sustained to her head, neck, and torso.