Reports that a Sichuan Airlines flight lost pressurization after the cockpit windscreen separated from the aircraft at cruising altitude, causing the first officer to be partially sucked out of the plane, marks the sixth incident of this kind in less than a month.
Captain Liu Chanjian described the tense moments immediately after the windscreen of his Airbus A319 blew out while the plane cruised at an altitude of 32,000 feet. The flight landed safely with only minor injuries reported despite the fact that the first officer was nearly sucked out of the flight deck.
“There was no warning sign,” the pilot recounted. “Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window. Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air. Most of the equipment malfunctioned … and I couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard I could not read the gauges.”
The terrifying incident this week is the sixth potentially serious failure of a passenger plane window in the weeks since a passenger was tragically killed after being partially sucked out of a broken window aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 18. In the case of the fatal SWA flight, the window damage on the Boeing 737 was caused by an in-flight engine explosion.
The window itself is assumed to have been in good condition prior to being hit by shrapnel from the jet engine. This does not appear to be the case in the other more recent window failures, including the near tragedy aboard Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633 this week.
Just days after the events of flight 1380, passengers on an Air India flight received a scare when the inner-pane of a window became detached during heavy turbulence. It is not entirely clear if the window itself was damaged or if only cosmetic features protecting the window were affected. Although oxygen masks reportedly deployed, there is no indication that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner ever lost cabin pressure.
On May 2, another Southwest Boeing 737, this time bound from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) was forced to divert to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) after a crack developed in the window of an emergency exit door. The plane never lost pressurization and airline officials described the unscheduled landing as being for a “maintenance review.”
On April 25, a Flybe flight from Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY) to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) was forced to return to the airport shortly after takeoff when cracks appeared in the windscreen of the Embraer 195. The plane reached the ground before the windscreen failed completely and the aircraft reportedly did not lose cabin pressure.
On May 6, the windscreen of a Jet Blue Airlines Airbus A320 developed cracks during a flight from San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) to Tampa International Airport (TPA) forcing the captain to divert to Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL). The plane did not lose cabin pressure and landed without further incident, but the aircraft was taken out of service for maintenance review.