A veteran air traffic controller has told of sheer panic in the cabin of a ‘fully loaded’ Qatar Airways Dreamliner that rapidly descended after take-off from Doha, coming within seconds of hitting the water.
One person vomited, he said – and ‘people all around the cabin screamed’.
Lucas Andersson has been an air traffic controller for 20 years – and just happened to be a passenger on flight QR161 from Doha to Copenhagen on January 10, a 2am flight that plummeted at a rate of 50 feet a second shortly after it took to the air. According to a Flightradar24.com ‘playback’ of the take-off, it came within 850ft of the water – or 17 seconds – having climbed initially to 1,850ft.
Mr Andersson, 43 – who was travelling with his wife and two boys aged 11 and nine, along with his sister’s family – said: ‘After around 70 seconds into the flight and from out of nowhere there’s this loud sound as the plane goes from pitch up to very much pitch down.
‘So, we definitely felt that and people screamed all around the cabin. A man in front of my sister even vomited, so no chance this sudden dive went unnoticed by anyone.
‘The first thing I did was look out of the window to try and see how high we were, but it was pitch black. My youngest son next to me was terrified – me too – so I tried to stay calm for his sake. But it sure crossed my mind… this is it, we are going down. Being in the aviation industry, I know how critical the departure phase is and descending with such a high rate at that altitude is never a good thing. It was very scary. It was a feeling of the plane being thrown towards the ground.’
Mr Andersson described the plane – a 787-8 with a capacity for almost 250 people – as being ‘busy with just a handful of empty seats, so basically fully loaded’. And the journey began uneventfully.
He said: ‘Everything was normal and there were no delays. We took off just 20 minutes after scheduled time. In the pre-speech from the cockpit they said it was going to be a pleasant flight with just some light turbulence forecasted around two hours into the flight.’
After the plane’s terrifying descent, several people asked the flight attendants what had caused it, but no explanation was forthcoming.
Mr Andersson continued: ‘This is one of the things that at the time of the incident was really upsetting. Not a single word from the cockpit afterwards, so people confronted the flight attendants instead, who just said that everything was normal and we flew through some unexpected weather. Most likely they did not know what happened either and just tried to calm people down.’
Presently, the cause of the descent is not known.
According to information the AV Herald received, the first officer was flying manually without directions from the ‘flight director’. This is a computer-generated marker on the Primary Flight Display (which shows the horizon) that guides pilots along the correct flight path.
The first officer apparently ‘lost situational awareness’ and the aircraft descended so quickly it ‘exceeded the flap speed limit’.
The captain took over and regained control and the aircraft continued to Copenhagen, where it landed safely six hours after it had departed from Doha’s Hamad International Airport.
A statement from Qatar Airways read: ‘Qatar Airways is aware of an event relating to flight QR161 operating Doha to Copenhagen on January 10, 2023. It was immediately reported to authorities and an internal investigation is being carried out
Qatar Airways told MailOnline Travel that the incident was reported to the authorities ‘immediately’.
A statement from the carrier read: ‘Qatar Airways is aware of an event relating to flight QR161 operating Doha to Copenhagen on January 10, 2023. It was immediately reported to authorities and an internal investigation is being carried out.
‘The airline follows the most stringent standards of safety, training and reporting and is working to address any findings in line with industry norms.’
Last year Qatar Airways was named the world’s best airline for a record seventh year in a row at the ‘Oscars of Aviation’.
The carrier reigned supreme over 350 airlines at the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2022, with Singapore Airlines in second place and Emirates in third.
The name of the air traffic controller has been changed at his request.