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Passengers mistakenly used emergency exits to get off Aer Lingus plane after emergency landing

No injuries were reported following the flight’s emergency landing in 2017.

An Aer Lingus flight at Cork Airport (File photo)
An Aer Lingus flight at Cork Airport (File photo)
Image: Rollingnews.ie

PASSENGERS ON BOARD an Aer Lingus flight that performed an emergency landing in Cork incorrectly left the aircraft using its emergency exits, a report has found.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) noted the incident happened after Aer Lingus flight EI-GAL returned to Cork Airport on 2 November, 2017.

According to the report, the plane was forced to perform an emergency landing after the crew reported fumes in the cockpit.

The aircraft, which was carrying 143 passengers and six crew members at the time, diverted during a flight to London Heathrow, following a journey from the British capital to Cork earlier that day.

Cabin crew on board the flight later reported that passengers “wouldn’t necessarily know the difference between a ‘disembark’ and an ‘evacuate’ instruction”.

One passenger told the AAIU that while the pilot was “excellent”, the disembarkation from the flight was “chaotic”, and said that the overwing emergency exits were opened because passengers did not know what to do.

Another reported that following an instruction from the flight commander to disembark the aircraft immediately, tension in the cabin was “heightened”.

‘Strong’ fumes

The incident happened during the first of two scheduled flights to London that day.

According to the report, the crew noticed a burning smell in the cockpit during the flight’s earlier descent into Cork that morning.

On that occasion, the crew took action by switching off the cockpit floor heaters, suspecting that they were the source of the fumes.

However, after departing from Cork, the crew once again noticed fumes in the cockpit, which were described as “strong and persistent”.

The flight crew subsequently donned oxygen masks and issued a Mayday alert, before the flight returned to Cork Airport as the crew attempted to identify the source of the fumes.

The plane landed on the runway, where it was met by emergency services and, following a brief assessment, continued to taxi to stand.

Escape slides

According to the report, the pilot in command directed the passengers to initiate a “rapid disembarkation” when the aircraft was parked on stand.

While most of the passengers and crew exited the aircraft using steps to the front and rear of the plane, some passengers seated in the emergency exit rows opened the overwing emergency exits.

The report noted that around 32 passengers subsequently disembarked the aircraft onto its wings, and that around half of these used the escape slides, while the other half returned to the cabin and exited the aircraft using the front and rear steps.

No injuries were reported to the investigation, although one passenger reported feeling unwell and was later taken to a local hospital.

The hatches from the overwing emergency exits also sustained impact damage when they were ejected on to the wings and the ground beneath the aircraft.

Tension

In a subsequent interview with investigators, one passenger said that they noticed the aircraft banking steeply around 15-20 minutes into the flight.

The male passenger said that the pilot in command then announced that the aircraft was returning to Cork and that he could tell that the captain was speaking through an oxygen mask.

Following this, the passenger noticed a sharp drop in altitude, which he said “alarmed” some passengers.

The passenger added that although the landing was normal, the sight of emergency services on the runway and the captain’s instruction to disembark immediately “heightened tension” in the cabin.

He reported that he felt “obliged” to use the emergency exit in the row in front of him, and subsequently disembarked the aircraft using the emergency slide.

Another passenger told the AAIU that the exit procedure was “frightening”, saying that adults and children were upset which caused him to feel upset.

Shortly after disembarkation, this passenger felt unwell and was taken to a local hospital.

Passengers briefed

In its conclusions, the AAIU did not attribute any blame to the flight crew or pilots.

It said it was inappropriate to assign fault or blame or determine liability arising out of the report, as neither the safety investigation nor the reporting process were undertaken for that purpose.

However, the report suggested that passengers seated in emergency exit rows should be briefed on emergency commands in future.

It noted that visual cues to passengers who saw emergency responders outside the aircraft, as well directions to passengers to “use the nearest available exit” to disembark the plane contributed to the use of emergency exits.

It also found that the source of the cockpit fumes was the avionics bay vent fan, which was later replaced.

Concluding, the AAIU said its report did not sustain any safety recommendations.

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