“The windshield cracked suddenly and gave a huge bang. I looked aside and found half of the co-pilot’s body was already outside the window,” Sichuan Airlines Capt. Liu Chuanjian said, the South China Morning Post reported.
“Fortunately, his seat belt was fastened,” Liu added about the first officer, who was dragged back into the windswept cockpit, where the pressure and temperature plummeted.
“Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air,” the captain said, according to the BBC. “I couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard I could not read the gauges.”
Inside shot of the damaged cockpit
The Airbus A319 was en route from Chongqing in southwest China to Lhasa in Tibet on Monday when the terrifying mishap occurred while the 119 passengers were eating breakfast.
“We didn’t know what was going on and we panicked,” a passenger told the state-run China News Service. “The oxygen masks dropped … We experienced a few seconds of free-fall before it stabilized again.”
The plane dropped to 24,000 feet as Liu struggled to regain control.
“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 (560 miles) an hour and at such a high altitude,” Liu said, according to the Morning Post.
The broken window on Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633
Liu said he had to fly the plane manually because the automatic systems malfunctioned.
“I have flown this route a hundred times and know everything very well,” said Liu, who landed the plane safely in Chengdu.
The only injuries reported were to the co-pilot, who suffered a sprained wrist and facial cuts, and another crew member, who was slightly hurt as the plane dropped, Chinese aviation officials said.
The incident comes two months after a woman died after being partially sucked out of a Southwest Airlines jet that suffered a midair engine failure during a flight from New York City to Dallas.