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Indian Authorities Say Flight Crew Forgot To Pressurize Airplane Cabin

A Jet Airways plane at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi earlier this month.
Sajjad Hussain
AFP/Getty Images
A Jet Airways plane at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi earlier this month.

As Jet Airways Flight 9W697 took off from Mumbai on Thursday, something terrifying quickly became clear: The cabin was not properly pressurized.

Oxygen masks dropped from the cabin's ceiling. "Thirty out of 166 passengers experienced nose and ear bleeding [and] some also complained of headache," an official with India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation said, according to the Hindustan Times.

The flight turned back "due to loss in cabin pressure," according to a statement from the Indian international airline.

But as the Hindustan Times reported, the country's civil aviation regulator stated that this happened because, "during the climb, crew forgot to select switch to maintain cabin pressure."

Jet Airways says the cockpit crew "has been taken off scheduled duties pending investigation." The Times reported that India's Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau has launched a probe into the incident, and the airline said it is "extending full cooperation."

The flight had been bound for Jaipur, a popular tourist destination in northern India.

"I was sitting on an aisle seat when suddenly air pressure in the cabin dropped and oxygen masks came down," passenger Prashant Sharma told India's PTI news agency. "I saw a passenger sitting next to me bleeding from the nose. Several others complained of extreme pain in their ears."

Others posted videos from the cabin, showing passengers sitting quietly and breathing through oxygen masks.

Several of the passengers complained about a lack of information provided by the crew during the incident.

One of them, Satish Nair, stated that the airline staff did not provide passengers with any explanation about what was happening: "no staff to help," he said in a tweet, "...no announcement on board to wear the oxygen mask." He complained that the safety of passengers was being ignored.

According to PTI, another unnamed passenger said that the plane "circled overhead for around half-an-hour before landing. There was no announcement (related to the problem) from the crew."

The airline saidfive people were hospitalized and have been released. It added that 144 of the original flight's passengers have been transported to Jaipur on a different flight, and 17 decided "to travel at another point in time."

This comes at a somewhat tense moment for the airline – according to Reuters, it is "struggling to cut costs and embroiled in a pay dispute with pilots." Jet Airways "posted a loss of about $189 million for the April-June quarter," the wire service said.

And in January, the BBC reported, the airline "grounded two pilots following reports of a fight inside the cockpit of a flight from London to Mumbai." That flight landed safety, the broadcaster added.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.