AirAsia has commended the pilots of a recent flight for “complying with standard operating procedure” during an emergency landing on Sunday, but passengers say the cabin crew was anything but calm.
"The panic escalated because of the behavior of staff who were screaming [and] looked tearful and shocked," passenger Clare Askew told reporters after AirAsia flight QZ535 returned safely to Perth, Australia, only 78 minutes after departing for Bali.
"We looked to them for reassurance and we didn't get any,” added Askew. “We were more worried because of how panicked they were."
According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is now investigating the incident, the cabin of flight QZ535 somehow became depressurized at 34,000 feet. The crew was then forced to bring the plane down to a safer altitude of only 10,000 feet — but in the space of only nine minutes, according to data from Flight Aware.
"Hostesses started screaming: 'Emergency, emergency.' They just went hysterical,” said passenger named Mark Bailey in a statement to Seven Network. "There was no real panic before that, then everyone panicked," he added.
Footage from inside the aircraft shows passengers utilizing the oxygen masks that fell from over their seats. Passengers can also be seen tearfully embracing as the flight crew shouted instructions over the loudspeaker.
"We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other," said Leah, another passenger, to Nine Network. “It was really upsetting.”
The Indonesian airline has yet to divulge exactly what caused the plane’s depressurization, but blamed a “technical issue” in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.
Captain Ling Liong Tien, the AirAsia Group’s head of safety, said the pilot turned back "following a technical issue to ensure the safety of passengers."
"We commend our pilots for landing the aircraft safely and complying with standard operating procedure," Tien added.
AirAsia further stated that affected passengers were placed on the next flight to Bali. "The safety of passengers and crew is our priority," they also stated. "AirAsia apologizes to passengers for any inconvenience caused."
Meanwhile, an spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said his agency has reached out to AirAsia to review how the emergency situation was handled.
"Our job as the regulator is to gather information on these sorts of events and review that to see whether we're satisfied that everything was managed properly and determine whether we should dig any deeper," said CASA spokesperson Peter Gibson.
This isn’t the first time in recent months that a turbulent AirAsia flight has made headlines. In June, an AirAsia flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur was forced to turn around after the plane started rattling like “a washing machine” 75 minutes into its journey. The shaking was reported to have been so violent that the pilot — who had 44 years of experience — called on passengers to “pray.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.