Passengers thought they were going to die, sending goodbye text messages to loved ones, as crew panicked after aircraft plummeted 20,000 feet and confusion reigned.
AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ535 which departed Perth at 11.35am bound for Bali reportedly plunged from 32,000 to 10,000 feet just 25 minutes into the three-hour and 45-minute flight.
In the mid-air drama, passengers described a panicked flight crew announcing an emergency and oxygen masks deployed because of the sudden and massive drop in altitude while the aircraft was still over Western Australia.
Passengers were told to get into the brace position as the Airbus A320 with 151 people onboard, including crew, turned back to Perth due to the “technical issue”, landing safely at 12.40pm.
The budget Indonesian airline said in a statement engineers were examining the plane at Perth.
“Our engineers are assessing the aircraft. All affected passengers (were) scheduled to the next available flight and provided with necessary assistance, including meal vouchers.
“The safety of our guests is our utmost priority,” the statement said, adding that the airline “apologises for any inconvenience caused.”
Many of the 145 passengers spoke to the Australian media about the fear and confusion on board, complaining that the crew “were of no help at all”.
Describing the ordeal as “terrifying”, passengers said they were left in the dark and thought they were going to die.
“The panic was escalated because of the behavior of staff who were screaming, looked tearful and shocked.
“We looked to them for reassurance and we didn’t get any, we were more worried because of how panicked they were,” passenger Clare Askew was quoted as saying.
“One of the stewardesses started running down the aisle and we thought, why is she running,” a passenger named Leah said.
“And then the masks fell down and everybody started panicking.
“Nobody told us what was going on.”
“I actually picked up my phone and sent a text message to my family, just hoping that they would get it.”
“We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other. It was really upsetting,” Leah said.
Passenger Mark Bailey told Seven Network television: “Hostesses started screaming: ‘Emergency, emergency.’ They just went hysterical.”
“There was no real panic before that, then everyone panicked,” Bailey added.
Passengers slamming the handling of the chaotic situation by the AirAsia crew also claimed that the only instructions they received in English were to “brace” and put their seatbelts on, the Daily Mail reported.
Merv Loy claimed that as the mid-air incident unfolded, frantic cabin crew added to the hysteria of passengers with their lack of instruction.
“We didn’t understand a word they were saying. It was pretty scary,” Loy told Perth Now.
A video taken on the plane, broadcast by local media, shows oxygen masks hanging from the ceiling and one person shouting “passengers get down, passengers get down”.
Passengers later boarded another aircraft provided by the low-cost carrier.
PT Indonesia AirAsia, which is based in Tangerang, is jointly owned by PT Fersindo Nusaperkasa (51%) and Malaysia-based AirAsia Investment Limited (49%).