THE co-pilot of a plane carrying 128 people was "sucked halfway" out of the cockpit windshield before the captain made an emergency landing, aviation authorities have said.
Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8633 from Chongqing in southwest China to Lhasa in Tibet had just reached a cruising altitude of 32,000 feet when the cockpit experienced a sudden loss of pressure.
The explosive decompression blew off the cockpit's right windshield and dragged the co-pilot headfirst towards the window.
“There was no warning sign. Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window,” Captain Liu Chuanjian told the Chengdu Business Daily.
"Luckily his seatbelt was tied. Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air.
"Most of the equipment malfunctioned ... and I couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard I could not read the gauges."
The co-pilot was pulled back into the cockpit and suffered facial injuries and a sprained wrist, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said.
A female flight attendant suffered minor injuries in the descent. None of the plane’s 119 passengers were injured.
Captain Chuanjian has been hailed a "hero" on social media after he managed to slow the aircraft from its original speed of about 800-900 km/h and make a manual emergency landing in around 20 minutes.
“The crew were serving us breakfast when the aircraft began to shake. We didn’t know what was going on and we panicked," an unnamed passenger was quoted as saying.
"Then the oxygen masks dropped... We experienced a few seconds of free fall before it stabilized again".
They added: “I’m still nervous. I don’t dare to take an airplane anymore. But I’m also happy I had a narrow escape.”
An investigation into the incident on the Airbus A319 jet is underway.