Experiencing a Mid-Air Emergency

Have you ever wondered how you would you react in a mid-air emergency? Would you remain calm?

Fortunately, most people will never find out the answer to this question. But as it happens, AFF member panpan was a passenger on board a recent Qantas flight that had to divert after a loss of cabin pressure.

Qantas flight QF706 departed Adelaide before dawn at 6.15am on the 5th of March. The flight was scheduled to land in Canberra at 8.20am, but never made it there.

The Tuesday morning flight began uneventfully and the cabin crew were serving breakfast – ham and cheese toasted sandwiches – as the sun slowly began to appear on the horizon. Then, all of a sudden, oxygen masks appeared and the plane began descending. Passengers scrambled to put on their masks, while the cabin crew were forced to suspend their service and take the nearest seat so they could do the same. panpan writes…

When the oxy masks dropped, it was accompanied by a calm, stern, male voice LOUDLY saying “This is an emergency. You are required at this time to breathe oxygen. Pull the mask down. Strap it onto your face. Stay in your seat.” Over and over again. It was surreal. The female passenger next to me gasped and grabbed my hand. The lady behind me was clearing going to hyperventilate. BUT to me – the direction was clear from the voice – and I followed it.

The pilots quickly descended from an initial cruising altitude of 25,000 feet to 10,000 feet – an altitude where passengers can safely breathe without supplementary oxygen – before diverting to nearby Melbourne Airport. This is standard procedure in the event of a loss of cabin pressure. The cabin crew would remain seated until the plane levelled off at the lower altitude and the pilots that it was safe to commence “follow-on duties”.

Obviously the recorded message stopped. The Captain announced simply “We are now at a safe level. You may remove your mask and breathe normally. There is a problem with the aircraft, we are diverting to Melbourne. Cabin crew, continue follow-on duties”. I am pretty sure it was in that order. “Follow-on duties” I didn’t understand at the time, however crew got out of their seats, went to the tail and moved forward (facing the tail) asking for a thumbs up from each passenger as they travelled up the aisle towards the nose.

After a safe landing in Melbourne, all passengers were given access to the Qantas Club and re-booked on other flights to Canberra. But panpan decided to abandon the trip to Canberra and head straight back to Adelaide instead.

Everyone got Qantas lounge access. Cabin crew assisted the 2-3 that were in distress away from the main group. I left to go to the lounge after 15 min or so so not sure what happened after that.For the record, I got straight on the 09:10 back to Adelaide. Wanted to see my wife.

The Qantas crew on board handled this incident professionally and did exactly what they’re trained to do.

[The flight attendants] were completely professional and followed their training to the letter, as a team. They will be commended I am sure.

…I would get on any flight any time again to shake the hand of the aircrew. I guess because I only heard the Captain’s voice, never saw the fear in his eyes my feeling towards them is different. I know they would have been seriously busy in the cockpit and some passengers did complain afterwards that they did not know what was happening in a blow-by-blow sense, but they had a serious job to do and their response was exemplary. I cannot fault it, and believe me I have relived it a number of times now.

Passengers on board this flight were never in any serious danger. But, as panpan explains, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a scary experience for those on board.

What you don’t consider is the irrational hormonal response that fear brings out. I can tell you that for some on that flight, it was a life-changing event. For me personally, I understood the situation – but the feeling of panic rising and ebbing every 20 seconds or so during the 4 minute descent is something I will never forget.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Incident on QF706 ADL to CBR

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]