Irish unhurt as jet hits storm over Africa


ABOUT 30 people were hurt on an Air France flight when it struck violent turbulence over the west coast of Africa yesterday. Some 20 of the 200 passengers on the Johannesburg-to-Paris trip were Irish, but none of them was injured. The 20-minute spell of turbulence left two of the injured in a serious condition. At one stage there was a violent drop in altitude.

On arrival at Dublin Airport yesterday the Irish holiday-makers described the incident as very frightening.

The flight was diverted to Marseilles's Marignance airport where the injured passengers were taken to hospital but were later released after treatment for minor injuries and shock. A couple in their 70s remain in hospital. The man has a fractured skull.

Mr Colm Cunningham, from Drogheda, who was returning from his honeymoon, said everything had been fine until they entered what appeared to be a thunderstorm.

They were being buffeted about a bit. "Then there was an almighty wallop against the side of the plane. My wife Anne Marie was thrown into the air and landed on my right. She had been asleep and her safety belt wasn't fastened.

"She was badly bruised. I saw a lady badly injured when a TV monitor hit her on the head. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen. We all felt we were going to die. The plane lunged very strongly and fell about 400 feet. There were violent flashes of lightning outside."

An Air France spokesman said two warnings to fasten safety belts were given and the flight crew had checked that the instruction had been followed. "We understand that the injuries were caused by falling luggage and not by people being thrown out of their seats. The report from the crew and the conversations we have had with passengers suggest that the turbulence lasted for about 20 minutes.

"A lot of passengers were sleeping, as it was about 1.00 a.m. GMT, but a few minutes later, a second announcement was made and the crew passed down the aisles telling passengers to do their belts. It was about five minutes after that there was an almighty drop some passengers said it was 500 feet, but the captain estimates it at 200 to 300 feet.

"At the time the aircraft was being heavily buffeted and was going through a hailstorm and there was a lot of noise on the fuselage. But the aircraft fell very quickly, the lights went out momentarily. Some passengers said it felt like it took 10 minutes, but we understand it was a matter of seconds."