If you live in the UK you may have seen press reports of the recent incident involving a Ryanair flight from Milan to East Midlands airport (Flight FR1703). Once again media reports have embellished and dramatised what took place and therefore I felt it necessary to write this article explaining.
It’s important to note that I do not work for or have any relationship with Ryanair whatsoever, but it upsets me when any aviation incident is misreported.
What happened on this flight is called a decompression. The aircraft cabin is pressurised during flight. This allows all of us to breath freely without breathing apparatus at such high altitudes. Sometimes a technical problem (such as a damaged door seal) can prevent the aircraft from becoming pressurised, or cause it to lose pressurisation.
All aircraft are fitted with drop down oxygen masks. In a decompression these masks drop automatically, but this oxygen only lasts for a limited time before running out. At cruising altitude, and without oxygen, you would be unable to breath and would suffer oxygen starvation. Therefore in the event of a decompression pilots MUST immediately descend to an altitude that allows normal breathing without added oxygen supply.
This is exactly what happened on the recent Ryanair flight. The pilots followed procedure and descended RAPIDLY to allow passengers to breath normally. The plane was never out of control as implied by the media reports. I can’t stress this enough, the pilots performed a controlled a rapid and deliberate descent in order to protect the safety of those passengers.
The reports also state that passengers overheard the pilot saying Mayday. Once again this is the correct response. BUT, passengers should not have heard this, and this obviously happened by mistake. In any emergency situation a mayday warning is given to Air-Traffic Control (ATC). This is to ensure the affected flight receives priority attention from ATC, and so that ATC are aware of the pilot’s intentions.
Also, there are reports of passengers needing medical treatment. This is usually a result of damage to the ears during the rapid descent. The change in pressure can cause temporary damage to the ears (including burst ear drums). Therefore is not unusual for a few passengers to require medical attention following a decompression.
The affected Ryanair flight diverted following this decompression incident. Again, this is the correct procedure. Firstly, the pressurisation fault needs to be fixed, and also, the drop down oxygen generators needs to be replaced before the aircraft is flown with passengers onboard.
I hope this helps. I am writing this as headlines such as ‘Ryanair flight plunges after inflight emergency’ are not helpful, and imply the situation to be much worse than it actually was. Decompression incidents are rare, but they do happen. That is exactly why drop down oxygen is installed on all commercial planes.
If you have been reading this site for any length of time you will know how annoyed I get with the way in which the media over-dramatise incidents like this. Interviewing passengers who (no offence) know nothing about flying and how planes work should not be interviewed…. Especially as they are likely to embellish their story greatly to add their own drama to it.
The Daily Mail appear to be the worst culprits who have added lines such as ‘their plane plunged 20,000ft as the Captain screamed “Mayday! Mayday!” after a sudden loss of cabin pressure’ and ‘their plane nose-dived 20,000ft’. This is untrue. Once again, the pilots made a necessary, but CONTROLLED rapid descent in order to protect passenger’s safety. Shame on you Daily Mail ‘journalists’.