SHAH ALAM - Retired airline pilot Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger or better known as Sully, who is famous for his successful emergency water landing on New York's Hudson River back in 2009, says he has never seen a turbulence as bad as the one that hit the Singapore Airlines Boeing aircraft flying from London's Heathrow airport to Singapore.

In an interview with CNN News Central, he said turbulence encounters were rare but could be very damaging and cause injuries.

"I've never encountered turbulence that severe. These encounters are rare. They can be very damaging and cause very severe injuries.

"In this case, it can be very sudden," he said.

Sullenberger who has 30 years of experience as a commercial pilot said to prepare for such incidents, passengers on board should always keep their seatbelts on throughout the flight.

This, he said was especially if the flight involved huge parts of the globe with changing climates and atmospheric conditions over a 10-hour flight.

"So, even though air travel around the globe has become commonplace and very routine, we have to remember that what we are really doing is pushing people through the upper atmosphere seven or eight miles above the Earth and we must really be prepared for whatever condition we might encounter," he said.

He added that the movement of the air either horizontally or vertically, could be a big surprise and that was why no matter where the plane was flying, the single most important thing was for passengers to keep their seatbelts fastened.

He said as hard as the aviation industry works to understand the science of the atmosphere, it was still difficult to predict with precision exactly where, when or what altitude turbulence may occur.

"It can happen anytime, where clear turbulence is one of the most dangerous encounters.

"The airline meteorologists, the flight planners and the pilots do their very best to try to anticipate the kind of turbulences that might occur, but once it is encountered, you have to maintain control of the aeroplane, maintain your assigned altitude as much as possible and to deviate from your assigned altitude if necessary to avoid overstressing the aeroplane," he said.

He said planes were designed by engineers and built to very high standards to withstand severe turbulence plus a 50 per cent safety margin, making severe damage to the airplane very unlikely.

However, turbulence could still injure people and create a mess in the cabin, he added.

On Tuesday, a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore was hit with extreme turbulence, resulting in the death of a passenger and injuries to dozens of others on the flight as they were violently thrown around the cabin.

According to a report by Reuters, the Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 was approximately three hours away from their destination when their Boeing 777-300R suddenly encountered severe turbulence over Myanmar.

The pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted the flight to Bangkok, Thailand where it landed about an hour later.

A passenger of the flight, Andrew Davies who had his seatbelt on during the incident said every crew member he saw was injured from turbulence as they were doing their job and were not seated which made them extremely vulnerable.

In response to this, Sullenberger said Davies was right about the cabin crew being extremely vulnerable.

"They are the ones who are not buckled up and are not as safe as the passengers," he said.

In mitigating the risks of injuries from turbulence, Sullenberger said the relevant authorities did their best such as using the airport radar when there was a precipitation ahead.

"But you have to understand that radar can only see something that has water in it, like a thunderstorm; if it's clear turbulence, no cloud with a lot of moisture in it, the radar is not going to detect that.

"There are some efforts that have been used, such as using light beams to detect clear turbulence to see if they could move the aeroplane, but as of right now, it is not really a reliable, effective tool.

"Besides looking out the windows and seeing clouds or knowing from experience that at certain altitudes, there are forecasts to be big changes in wind speed direction, sudden ups and downs, or mountaineous terrain, for example, it's very difficult to predict," he said.

2024-05-23T09:59:17Z dg43tfdfdgfd