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What is clear air turbulence and how did it affect the Singapore Airlines flight from London?

Simon Calder’s Travel

A passenger has died aboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 after the flight from London Heathrow to Singapore encountered severe turbulence.

Along with the death, 30 of the 211 passengers and 18 crew on board were injured, it has been reported.

Singapore Airlines “offers its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased” and says it is working with the authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary medical assistance.

What more do we know about this tragedy?

Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, nonstop from London Heathrow to Singapore, took off at 10.37pm on Monday night for a routine flight to Southeast Asia . It appears the Boeing 777-300 encountered clear air turbulence over the Bay of Bengal, south of the southern tip of Myanmar, just before 9am British time. A turn towards Bangkok and a rapid descent from the cruising altitude began at 9.07am UK time.

The aircraft landed in the Thai capital at 9.45am.

At the time the aircraft encountered the clear air turbulence, about 90 minutes remained of the expected flight time to Singapore. It is likely that crew would have been moving around the cabin dealing with breakfast, together with a number of passengers.

The Boeing 777-300 had been delivered to Singapore Airlines in February 2008.

It is likely to remain on the ground until engineers are satisfied that it suffered no structural damage.

What is the safety record of Singapore Airlines?

Excellent. The only Singapore Airlines accident to result in fatalities involved a Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo jet’ taking off from Taipei in the year 2000. The pilots mistakenly attempted to take off from a closed runway, and collided with construction equipment. Of the 179 passengers and crew on board, 83 died and 96 survived.

What is clear air turbulence?

The US National Weather Service says: “Turbulence is caused by abrupt, irregular movements of air that create sharp, quick updrafts/downdrafts. These updrafts and downdrafts occur in combinations and move aircraft unexpectedly.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines clear air turbulence as “sudden severe turbulence occurring in cloudless regions that causes violent buffeting of aircraft… CAT is especially troublesome because it is often encountered unexpectedly and frequently without visual clues to warn pilots of the hazard.”

Is it unusual for a fatality as a result of…

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