The co-pilot of a Sichuan Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing on Monday was "sucked halfway" out of the plane after a cockpit windshield blew out, media reported, citing the aircraft's captain.
Sichuan Airlines 3U8633 was en route from Chongqing in south-west China to Lhasa in Tibet when the incident happened.
Pilot Liu Chuanjian told Chinese media that the aircraft, an Airbus A319, had just reached cruising altitude of 32,000ft when there was a bang in the cockpit and he realised that the right-hand side of the windscreen was gone. "The entire aircraft was vibrating and it was impossible to see the instruments and it was hard to operate", pilot Liu Chuanjian told reporters from the Chengdu Business Daily of the ordeal.
Liu said that everything in the cockpit was floating in the air, and most of the equipment malfunctioned.
Passengers report being mid breakfast when the plane suddenly went dark, oxygen masks dropped and the plane plummeted toward the mountainous area below.
The crew managed to pull the co-pilot back into the plane and he suffered only minor injuries.
Li Xiaohu, head of safety for the aviation administration's Southwest Regional Administration, said an investigation has begun and the reason the windshield shattered will be looked into. One pilot suffered an ear injury, while a number of passengers suffered from lack of oxygen and tinnitus.
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An anonymous passenger on the flight told China News Service that the experience has made him afraid of ever taking another plane again. "We didn't know what was going on and we panicked", an unnamed passenger was quoted as saying. This incident is very odd and only further investigation will lead to a resolution, Zhang added.
"I'm still nervous. I don't dare to take an aeroplane anymore".
In 1990, the pilot of a British Airways plane was sucked out of the cabin window onto the nose of the jet after its windshield blew out at 23,000 feet. "But I'm also happy I had a narrow escape".
A cabin crew member was also injured in the descent, it added, without providing details on what had caused the windshield to break off.
While authorities continue to investigate the accident, Sichuan Airlines noted that the flight had experienced a "mechanical failure".
In April, when an engine exploded in midair on a Southwest Airlines flight from NY to Dallas, a gust of shrapnel blew out a window in the cabin and partially ejected a 43-year-old woman headfirst into the sky.