An AirAsia flight en route from Perth to Bali dropped at an average rate of 700m per minute when a fault in the pressurisation system caused an emergency landing. An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has revealed exactly what went wrong when the low-budget airline’s Airbus conducted an emergency descent with 146 passengers, two flight crew and four cabin crew on board on October 15.
The aircraft plunged from 32,000 feet to 10,000 feet, with dramatic footage captured by passengers showing crew members instructing passengers to "get down, get down" as oxygen masks drop and they were ordered to adopt the brace position.
A preliminary report, released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau on Wednesday, showed the flight crew noticed a pressurisation system fault "appear and then disappear" when they first began their ascent.
Around 20 minutes later another caution was activated relating to the opening of the pressurisation system safety valves. The crew attempted to switch the controls to manually close the valves and stop the cabin's pressurisation rate from climbing, but before the pilots could complete their checklist, the caution had again disappeared.
An altitude warning then appeared about three minutes later, requiring crew to begin an emergency descent. The warning alerts the crew when cabin altitude is about 9550ft and the plane is above 10,000ft. An emergency landing at Perth Airport was arranged, and the plane eventually landed safely.
Passengers thought they were going to die during the terrifying ordeal. “I actually picked up my phone and sent a text message to my family, just hoping that they would get it,” Perth woman Leah told Nine News. “We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other. It was really upsetting.” At the time, Air Asia apologised for inconvenience caused to passengers.