Singapore flight turbulence: Kilkenny man ‘went through the panel above his head’

Kilkenny couple were taken to a Bangkok hospital after incident in which a man (71) died when their aircraft hit an air pocket and dropped 6,000ft

A Kilkenny couple on the Singapore Airlines flight that hit severe turbulence over Myanmar have described how one of them “went through the panel above his head”.

An English man (71) died and scores were injured after the aircraft hit an air pocket, dropped 6,000ft in minutes and was forced to make an emergency landing in Bangkok.

Twenty people on-board the flight are currently being treated in intensive care facilities, Bangkok’s Samitivej Hospital said on Wednesday. The hospital said a total of 58 people were still under treatment at multiple medical facilities, and 27 had been discharged.

The Kilkenny couple were taken to a hospital in Bangkok following an emergency landing. The couple, who are in their 20s and did not want to be named publicly, were on the flight as part of their journey to Australia.


When the aircraft hit the air pocket, the young man was thrown upwards into the panel above his head. His partner was not injured but very traumatised by the events.

The couple explained: “He went through the panel above his head. When the plane landed in Bangkok he was checked over in hospital and X-rayed and given the all-clear thankfully.”

The young woman added: “The experience was horrible and the flight to Singapore today had turbulence too. There was an awful feeling of not being able to breathe. There were nightmares too overnight.”

The pair were given hotel accommodation in Bangkok overnight. They have continued their onward journey, upgraded to business class, and have now landed in Singapore and are awaiting another flight to Australia.

Thomas Britton, owner of Marble City Travel in Kilkenny, reiterated the “importance of always wearing a seat-belt when on a flight. It’s so important to keep wearing them throughout a flight. Turbulence and air pockets are a fact of aviation.

“Pilots talk to each other when in flight and they will let each other know where turbulence is and it can also be tracked on radar. Air pockets not so much,” he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed there were four Irish citizens on-board the flight from London Heathrow to Singapore that was forced to divert to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

A department spokeswoman said: “We are aware that four Irish citizens were on board. The Embassy is in close contact with the relevant Thai authorities and stands ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

The plane was forced to divert to Thailand after hitting the air pocket. Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, a Boeing 777-300ER diverted to Bangkok and landed at 3.45pm local time (9.45am Irish time).

Singapore Airlines said the flight encountered “sudden extreme turbulence” over Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Basin at 37,000 feet about 10 hours after departure, with the pilot declaring a medical emergency.

Geoff Kitchen (73), a grandfather from Bristol, died on board of a suspected heart attack and his wife was among passengers who were injured.

Many of the more seriously injured passengers are understood not to have been wearing seat belts when the flight hit the air pocket.

There were a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board of varying nationalities.

There was little warning of the chaos that was to come as passengers relaxed with just three hours to Singapore after a long-haul flight from London.

But as the Boeing aircraft soared above Myanmar it suddenly hit extreme turbulence, wildly throwing passengers, flight attendants and in-flight meals and kettles around the cabin.

“Suddenly the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking,” Malaysian student Dzafran Azmir (28) said.

Mr Azmir braced himself and checked he had his seat belt on. He did.

“There was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing seat belt was launched immediately into the ceiling, some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it, they hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it,” Mr Azmir told Reuters.

“The entire thing happened within the span of less than 10 seconds,” he said. “People dropped to the ground, my phone flew out of my hand and went a couple aisles to the side, people’s [were] shoes flung about.”

Oxygen masks hung down from the plane’s ceiling, sections of which had fallen down or been dented and broken. Debris – including fruit salad, kettles and trays of in-flight meals – was strewn about the cabin, witness footage shows.

Turbulence – or pockets of disturbed air – can have many causes. Singapore Airlines did not say what type was involved. Weather reports show severe thunderstorms in the area.

“It was cloudy outside, completely white,” Mr Azmir said. – additional reporting: Reuters