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Plane dropped 10,000ft after Pilot started smoking in cockpit




An emergency descent which saw an Air China plane drop thousands of feet allegedly took place after a co-pilot started smoking an e-cigarette during the flight. The Air China Boeing 737 aircraft was flying to Dalian from Hong Kong on July 10 when it dropped to 10,000 feet with oxygen masks deployed. Then it climbed again to continue to its destination.


Chinese airlines have a good safety record in general, but passengers have, on occasion, accused pilots of smoking during flights. Few such incidents have been confirmed, however.


‘In the preliminary investigation, the co-pilot was found to be smoking an e-cigarette,’ state-owned China News said, citing a news conference by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) investigating Tuesday’s incident. ‘Smoke diffused into the passenger cabin and relevant air conditioning components were wrongly shut off, without notifying the captain, which resulted in insufficient oxygen,’ it added. China News said the co-pilot had shut off the air conditioning units.


Qiao Yibin, an official of the regulator’s aviation safety office, said the shut-off triggered an alarm, prompting the crew to perform an emergency pressure relief procedure, which then released the cabin’s oxygen masks. The crew realised the problem after the descent and restored the air conditioning, allowing cabin pressure to return to normal, he said.


The CAAC said it was continuing the investigation and was analysing the aircraft’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Air China said it would terminate the contracts of the employees involved in the emergency descent incident, and suggested that the CAAC cancel their licences, it said on its official account on China’s Weibo. Air China also said in a previous Weibo post on Wednesday it had a ‘zero tolerance’ approach towards wrongdoing by any crew.


The incident featured heavily on Chinese social media on Friday, with some commentators demanding harsh punishment and revocation of the pilot’s flight licence. China’s aviation regulations, which bar flight crew from ‘smoking on all phases of operation’, also banned passengers from using e-cigarettes on flights in 2006.


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