The pilots of a Chinese passenger jet made an emergency landing after a cockpit windscreen was ripped out in mid-air.
Two crew members on the Sichuan Airlines flight were injured when the plane’s window blew out as it cruised at 32,000ft with 119 passengers on board.
"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," Liu Chuanjian told Chengdu Economic Daily after making an emergency landing.
The jet’s flight control unit was badly damaged by the resulting sudden decompression. Some parts of the system were reportedly sucked out of the gaping window, forcing the pilots to fly manually before landing the airliner safely at the south-west Chinese city of Chengdu.
Pictures published on Chinese social media showed the plane missing one of its cockpit windows and damage to its cockpit controls.
One pilot, thought to have been the flight’s first officer, suffered scratches and a sprained waist during Monday morning’s drama.
A cabin crew member was also injured in the descent, said the Civil Aviation Administration of China （CAAC）.
The flight, Sichuan Airlines 3U8633, had left the central Chinese city of Chongqing for the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. There were 128 people, nine of whom were crew, on board.
According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24, the aircraft was an Airbus A319.
An Airbus spokeswoman said the company would provide any support requested by the CAAC and Sichuan Airlines.
The carrier said on its official Weibo account the flight had experienced a “mechanical failure”, but gave no further details. It said it had switched passengers to another aircraft to continue their journey to Lhasa.
Sichuan Airlines, a regional airline headquartered in Chengdu, operates mostly domestic flights but also flies internationally to countries including Japan, Canada and the Czech Republic.
Mid-air incidents involving cracked windshields happen fairly regularly, often due to bird or lightning strikes, but it is rare for an entire window to come off.
In 1990, a British Airways pilot was sucked partially out of the cabin window after his plane’s windscreen blew out at 23,000 feet. He survived the incident, which occurred on a BAC-111 jet.
In April an engine on a Southwest Airlines flight blew up and shattered a cabin window, killing a passenger who was dragged partly through the opening.
On May 3, another Southwest flight made an emergency landing after a cabin window pane cracked in flight.