On Monday, yet another airplane experienced shocking window-related issues, injuring two employees on board. Reportedly happening out of nowhere while mid-flight, a Sichuan Airlines windshield shattered, partially sucking a copilot outside of the plane. No passengers were reportedly harmed.
Reuters reports that Captain Liu Chuanjian had just reached approximately 32,000 feet when he heard a large crack. After the cabin lost pressure and the temperature dropped, Liu reportedly looked over and saw that the right windshield was gone. It appeared that the cockpit windshield on the Airbus A319 jetliner had shattered.
"There was no warning sign. Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang," Liu told the Chengdu Economic Daily, according to Reuters. "The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window."
He described a scene of total disarray.
"Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air," he said. "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 situation was very critical," Jiang Wenxue, a Civil Aviation official, told state news agency Xinhua, as reported by CNN. "The windshield was blown off at a 10,000-meter-high altitude. The aircraft was in a state of low pressure and a temperature was minus 30 to minus 40 degree Celsius."
The pilot made a manual emergency landing in the Chinese city of Chengdu, and has reportedly been hailed a hero. The airplane had been en route to Tibet.
The South China Morning Post reports that the airplane was successfully landed approximately 20 minutes after the incident onboard took place. Over two dozen people were examined by medical professionals, but the only people to officially sustain injuries were the copilot and another cabin crew member. Neither were reportedly life-threatening.
"The sudden loss of pressure and low temperature made me very uncomfortable and it was very difficult to make a single move when the aircraft was flying at 900 kilometers an hour and at such a high altitude,” Captain Liu told local news outlet The Red Star News, according to the Post. Still, he managed to manually take over the aircraft and land it safely at a nearby airport.
The Sichuan Airlines incident comes just a month after a woman sustained fatal injuries after being partly sucked out of a Southwest Airlines airplane window, also in flight. That time, a window shattered because part of an engine had broken off and smashed into it. But an additional window-related incident followed just a few weeks later.
On May 2, another U.S. plane, also a Southwest flight, made an emergency landing after a passenger window appeared to break. Passengers shared photos of a broken window on social media, and the airline told news agencies that they performed maintenance review on the window in question, according to CBS.
The Telegraph reports that windshield breakages are actually fairly common, though most are, of course, not as severe as the one that occurred onboard the Sichuan Airlines jetliner. Cracks can be caused by common weather phenomenons like hail. Other factors that could play a part are temperature — cockpit windows need to be properly heated — or as was once the case, a loose screw, according to The Telegraph.
There aren't reportedly industry standards for handling situations where the windshields crack — those procedures are put in place by individual airlines. However, cracks as severe as the one in China this week are incredibly rare. And on top of that, the Southwest Airlines April incident was more the product of an unpredictable blow caused by the engine-related explosion than it was to do with the quality of the airplane's window.
All of this is to say that, while emergencies certainly do happen, cracked windows — windshields or otherwise — are not something you really need to worry about on your average commercial flight. That being said, it's better to be safe than sorry. CNN reports that an investigation into the Sichuan Airline windshield's sudden malfunction is currently underway.