A copilot’s decision to enjoy a puff on his e-cigarette caused chaos during the flight and ended up costing him his job.
The incident happened last week during an Air China flight from Hong Kong to Dalian, a city about 300 miles east of Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported.
To prevent the e-cigarette’s vapor from reaching the cabin, the co-pilot thought it would be a good idea to switch off the ventilation fan. But he accidentally shut off the air-conditioning system instead.
The mistake caused oxygen levels in the cabin to drop, prompting an altitude warning that forced the Boeing 737 to embark on an emergency descent. The 153 passengers realized something was up when their oxygen masks dropped down from the ceiling. Meanwhile, the aircraft made a rapid descent from more than 32,000 feet to around 13,000 feet in less than nine minutes, according to CNN.
Once the crew managed to figure out what had happened, the plane later returned to its regular altitude and landed safely at its intended destination. The aircraft escaped any damage and there were no reports of injuries among passengers.
After the plane landed in Dalian, passenger Hoby Sun told CNN, “We didn’t know what was going on, nor did the flight attendants, it seemed,” adding, “I’m not physically hurt, but the psychological impact lingers. When I close my eyes, I see the oxygen masks dangling in front of me.”
Air China said in a statement that after conducting an internal investigation, it had decided to terminate the contracts of both the copilot and the captain of the aircraft. It also promised to put measures in place to prevent such an incident from happening again.
The airline also recommended that the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) revoke the pilots’ licenses once it had finished its own investigation into the matter. The CAAC is now examining the aircraft’s flight data recorder and voice data recorder to piece together everything that happened during the chaotic flight.
Chinese aviation regulators banned the use of e-cigarettes on passenger planes in 2006. But it seems that Air China’s copilot thought he could get away with a sneaky puff on his device during the flight from Hong Kong to Dalian.