Passengers on board a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur bled from their nose and ears after the pilots forgot to switch on a crucial button that would turn on the air conditioning within the aircraft and maintain the cabin pressure. On Thursday morning, Jet Airways flight 9W-697 landed back in Mumbai within 30 minutes of taking off from the airport's Terminal 2 after 30 of the 166 passengers on board started bleeding and complained of headaches. Taking cognizance of the nightmarish incident, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has directed the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau to investigate the incident.
This happened because the pilots had not turned on the "bleed air" button upon achieving an altitude of more than 10,000 feet that would release air from the engine into the cabin meant for air conditioning. As a result of this lapse, the cabin pressure could not be maintained and oxygen masks were deployed.
Passengers with respiratory troubles were the ones immediately impacted by this until the pilots decided to turn back and land in Mumbai. "There was no support from Jet. We were suffocating. They made no announcements telling us what was going on," said Sakhamitra Ashwini, a passenger on board the flight. Another passenger said: "There were elderly persons on board. They couldn't breathe. Then some of them started bleeding from their noses."
Five passengers were shifted to Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital for treatment.
Pending investigation, Jet Airways has de-rostered both the pilots of 9W-697. In a statement issued to the media, Jet Airways said, "Jet Airways flight 9W 697 Mumbai to Jaipur of September 20, 2018, made an air turn back due to loss in cabin pressure. The B737 aircraft, with 166 guests and five crew landed normally in Mumbai. All guests were deplaned safely and taken to the terminal."
The airline later arranged an alternate flight for the 144 passengers to travel onward to Jaipur. Seventeen others, the airline said, wished to travel another time. Meanwhile, civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu has ordered the DGCA to conduct a comprehensive safety audit of all scheduled airlines, aerodromes, flying training schools and MROs immediately. The DGCA has been asked to submit a report within 30 days, and take corrective measures in case of any deficiencies.
But the question is: will this safety audit throw light on what appears to be, prima facie, a case of human error? All Boeing 737s have a checklist on safety protocols that pilots are expected to follow, which clearly mentions turning on "engine bleeds" after take-off.
In this case, what sources indicate is that the pilots did not turn on the "engine bleeds" before take-off since they wanted to utilise maximum engine air to make the aircraft airborne. While that is a call that pilots are entitled to take on the basis of the "load", it is mandatory to turn on the bleed air switch after take-off, which unfortunately the cockpit crew of 9W-697 forgot, resulting in serious consequences for the passengers on board.