After Extreme Turbulence, Experts Say Get Ready for More

Climate change could lead to more incidents like one on Singapore Airlines flight that killed a man
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2024 10:35 AM CDT
After Extreme Turbulence, Experts Say Get Ready for More
A Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 jet is parked after encountering severe turbulence at Suvarnabhumi International Airport near Bangkok, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

More than three dozen people remain hospitalized after an incident of severe turbulence on a Singapore Airlines plane on Tuesday, including a toddler, reports the BBC. The 2-year-old is receiving treatment in Bangkok for a concussion, per a doctor at Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital. The oldest patient is said to be in his 80s; a hospital rep says more than 100 people were treated overall. Twenty passengers who were aboard the Boeing 777 are still in the ICU, with many of them needing spinal surgery, report CBS News and the AP. Meanwhile, the 73-year-old British man who died on the flight has been identified as Geoff Kitchen, who's believed to have died of a heart attack. More developments:

  • Passengers: Some aboard the flight are now recalling their terrifying experience. "I was in absolute shock," Keith Davis tells the Wall Street Journal. He says when he leaned over to his wife to see if she was OK, "I realized I was dripping blood all over her." His wife is currently one of the passengers in the ICU, though she's stable and conscious. Another passenger described the ordeal as "sheer terror," per Fox Business. "The whole plane was shuddering," says Beverley Mayers. "I think we all thought the plane was going to fall apart."

  • 'Rare' fatality: Reuters has more on the mechanics of turbulence. It's actually pretty common, according to 2021 NTSB stats and the FAA, which logged 163 serious turbulence injuries between 2009 and 2022 on planes registered in the US. However, turbulence isn't often fatal. "It is a very unusual and rare event," says Paul Hayes of the Cirium Ascend aviation data group.
  • Rising turbulence: Recent research shows there's been more turbulence of late than in past years, and experts say that rise will likely continue due to climate change, report the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. That's because higher carbon emissions can mess with the flow of air currents. One atmospheric scientist predicts to the Times that, by the end of the century, we could see three times the number of incidents of severe "clear air" turbulence—which pilots aren't usually able to notice before it hits—that we see now.
  • How to protect yourself: When in flight, keep your seatbelt on unless there's a need to take it off, such as a trip to the restroom, experts advise. "If you stay fastened, you're far less likely to incur an injury," says one Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor. Otherwise, "you'll become a projectile, you're a catapult, you will lift up out of your seat," notes an atmospheric sciences instructor at the University of Reading. Some also say not to hold children under 2 on your lap, as airlines typically allow—buy kids a ticket for their own seats instead.
(More Singapore Airlines stories.)

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