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Severe turbulence kills 1, injures 71 on London-Singapore flight

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A Singapore Airlines plane was hit by sudden turbulence Tuesday while flying from London to Singapore, killing one passenger and injuring more than 70 others, according to officials. Several passengers remain in critical condition.

Flight SQ321, a Boeing 777 with 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board, was 10 hours into the journey and flying over Myanmar when it was hit by turbulence with little to no warning, according to the airline and flight data.

“Suddenly there was a very dramatic drop so everyone seated and not wearing seatbelt was launched immediately into the ceiling,” Malaysian student Dzafran Azmir told Reuters. “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.”

Azmir added: “People dropped to the ground, my phone flew out of my hand and went a couple aisles to the side … The crew and people inside lavatories were hurt the most because we discovered people just on the ground not able to get up. There were a lot of spinal and head injuries.”

The pilot immediately declared a medical emergency and diverted the aircraft to Bangkok, where it landed at 3:45 p.m. local time.

A British passenger, 73-year-old Geoff Kitchen, was pronounced dead at the airport from a suspected heart attack, according to local officials. Dozens of other people, including several crew members, were taken to hospital for treatment.

Bangkok’s Samitivej Hospital said it received 71 patients from the incident, including 6 people in critical condition, 39 people with moderate injuries and 26 people with minor injuries. Those injured include people from the U.S., the UK, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Ireland.

Singapore Airlines said 131 passengers and 12 crew members were later flown to Singapore on a different plane, while 85 others, including 6 crew members, remained in Bangkok to receive medical treatment or to stay with their loved ones.

“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased passenger,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said. “We also deeply apologise for the trauma experienced by all passengers and crew members on this flight.”

Turbulence brings about rapid bumps or jolts to an aircraft, which can cause a plane to momentarily lose control in severe cases. Turbulence often occurs near thunderstorms but it can also happen in clear air when air masses with different speeds, directions or temperatures meet.

Due to the risk of sudden turbulence, passengers are typically advised to keep their seatbelt on throughout the flight, even when it’s not mandatory.

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