AIR SAFETY

British Airways passenger: “I thought it was a terrorist attack. No one told us anything”

The airline has been heavily criticized for failing to provide information when the plane cabin filled with smoke on the flight to Valencia

Footage from inside the smoke-filled cabin and after the evacuation.Mathew Haller

Many passengers on board the British Airways flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Valencia on Monday have complained on social media and to the press about the lack of action and information from the airline. The plane encountered problems as it was trying to land when smoke filled the cabin due to an alleged fault in one of the plane’s engines.

There was smoke everywhere and a very strong smell of  burning metal

British Airways passenger Mathew Haller

The passengers said they were surprised oxygen marks did not drop down given the amount of smoke, which even affected visibility in the cabin, as seen in various videos. Three people were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, while others suffered minor scratches and bumps from the falls, as well as anxiety attacks. The Airbus A321 was carrying 175 passengers, including one baby.

“The flight was normal until they told us that there was 15 minutes to landing,” Mathew Haller, a 19-year-old from London, tells EL PAÍS in a phone interview. “Five minutes later we saw smoke coming out, more and more of it. There was smoke everywhere and a very strong smell of burning metal. I thought it was a terrorist attack. No one told us anything. And the oxygen masks also didn’t drop down. There were people hitting above the compartment above them to see if they would drop down. But they didn’t. The flight attendants had them however,” he adds, explaining he was traveling to Valencia to spend the holidays with his family in Calpe.

The flight left London at 3:15pm and landed around 6:45pm.

“There was an increasing amount of smoke and when we landed we couldn’t see anything. We heard a very loud noise as if they were inflating the floats and emergency slide. We got up very quickly. I was in the last row. Next to me, there was a man with a bottle and he told us we should wet his shirt so we could breathe better. He was the only person helping people go down the slide and calming us down. I get to the exit and suddenly the only thing I see is an open chute and a flight attendant yelling at us to ‘jump, jump.’

It is not standard protocol to use oxygen masks when there is smoke in a cabin at low altitude

British Airways

“And we come out in the middle of the runway, with people crying, and in shock. There were children and I saw one father who was very worried because he was not able to get out with his children. People were asking what happened. No one told us anything. No one calmed us down. Only the man without a shirt. Not the Civil Guard. Later we saw firefighters in the plane,” he says.

On Tuesday, EL PAÍS asked British Airways about the protocol in such cases why the oxygen masks were not deployed. The airline replied that “oxygen masks are only used in situations of cabin decompression. It is not standard protocol to use them when there is smoke in a cabin at low altitude.” There was no mention of why the flight attendants were wearing oxygen masks.

After the incident, British Airways said in a statement: “Flight BA422 from Heathrow to Valencia experienced a technical issue on its landing approach into Valencia. All our customers were evacuated safely by our crew and met by the airport’s emergency services.

“There were 175 customers on board the flight, with six cabin crew and two pilots. Three customers were taken to hospital as a precaution and have since been discharged. The safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority. In addition to our team on site, other British Airways team members have arrived in Valencia to help our customers and our local airport partners with anything they need.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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