Firsthand Report From Passenger On Flight Which Lost Engine Power

Filed Under: Singapore

On Tuesday I first posted about the Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Shanghai which lost engine power and descended 13,000 feet before the pilots managed to restart both engines.

From the perspective of a clueless onlooker, the most interesting part of the story was probably that the pilots made the decision to keep flying, despite there being several diversion points nearby. That suggests this may have been less serious than it would have first appeared… which is hard to rationalize when we’re talking about the loss of power in both engines.

Anyway, reader Andrew left a comment on yesterday’s post, as he was on the flight, and offered to provide his firsthand experience. Of course this is from the perspective of a passenger, so simply presents the facts on what happened in the cabin. What was the atmosphere like? Did passengers know what was going on?


Here’s what Andrew said about the flight:

It’s hard to say what it felt like as I really didn’t know the engines were shut down/lost power. The turbulence started and the seat belt signs went on as well as the usual announcements. It started to get a bit rough, but nothing too untoward and I peered out of the window from row 40 centre section, aisle seat, and could see a lot of flashing, presuming it was lightning. I have traveled many long/medium haul trips over the last 25 years and have encountered this situation before, so wasn’t overly worried.

As with turbulence there is a lot of knocking going on and after around five minutes I could feel we were descending, but not at a rapid rate. Certainly not a plunge, then we seemed to bank right a little. I assume that we were trying to get out of the storm, there were a few moments when it did seem a little too quiet but with the other noises going on I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

After a further five to ten minutes I heard three thuds from underneath the plane and then the rubber/clutch burning smell. It was then I started to get somewhat panicky thinking lightning might have stuck the plane and we could have some damage. In hindsight knowing what I know now, those noises I suppose could have been the engines firing up again. Then after another five or so minutes the turbulence ceased and the plane was throttling up. During all this the lights were on but the entertainment system was off.

The other people in the plane didn’t seem to panic too much, there were a few moans and squeals as we went through air pockets, but all in all not panic. Mind you if the pilot had given us a running commentary on what was happening there would undoubtedly have been a major panic on board.

The entertainment system came back on and I immediately looked for the flight tracker to see where we were. At that point it said we were at 27,500 feet and slowly climbing. The tracking line from Singapore had a break in it but we had now deviated towards the coast of China.

The captain, who by the accent sounded Singaporean/Chinese, made an announcement about what had happened saying we were in a storm, had to descend and did mention the smell in the cabin which I did not hear all of, but he did mention it had to do with the engine (but for sure didn’t say both engines had lost power). The crew came around 15 minutes later and didn’t seem fazed at all.

After a normal landing in Shanghai we taxied to a spot to be ferried to the terminal by bus. Both engine covers were open and they were looking at the one on the left/port side.

I only found out this morning on a newspaper site what had happened with the engines and feel pretty lucky that we got back in one piece considering we must have been gliding for a while up there with no power.

I am no expert but I must say considering what had happened the pilots did a good job, the descent of 13,000 feet seemed to be controlled and fairly smooth to me. I do think though that they should have landed at the nearest possible airport and not taken any chances at all after they knew what had just happened.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Andrew, and happy to hear everything ended well. This certainly sounds much less severe than you’d expect with the loss of power in two engines at once and a gradual descent of over two miles (or as the Daily Mail calls it, a “plunge”).

  1. Lucky, do you think that SIA should be sued for not diverting to the nearest airport which is Hong Kong insted continued with the journey to China?

  2. Thank You Andrew for sharing your experience.

    I am so happy that no one was hurt and that the you and your fellow passengers were in the hands of what seems to be capable pilots and crew.

  3. Flashing plus bangs? Sounds like the storm may have caused a compressor surge (also known as a compressor stall)in both engines.

    Fairly rare, especially in both engines. Glad everyone is safe.

  4. This is great. I’ve been waiting for an account of the incident from inside the cabin. It’s great to hear what SQ has to say and what experts and other “experts” have to say about it, but I ultimately wanted to know what the heck it was like inside the cabin. Thanks Andrew, and Lucky, for posting this.

  5. @Gean – The pilots probably knew that they would be able to get to Shanghai safely. If there was REAL danger, they would have diverted.

    Seeing that there is no one at fault, I don’t think that SIA should be sued.

  6. Extremely glad that everything ended well. I am no aviation geek by any means, but why was the flight not diverted is something I am very much interested in reading.

  7. Seems as if maybe there was a problem with the APU that the IFE went out. The lights were running on reserve batteries.

  8. @Gean: Sued for not diverting? And what will the people suing claim for? Nothing actually happened to them, so what damages are there?

  9. The pilots get the engines restarted and everyone to their destination on time without any in the cabin having any idea what went on…and people are talking about suing?

    Humanity makes me sad at times.

  10. Great Job from the pilots to keep everyone from panicking and to manage to get the flight there basically on time and safely.

  11. Anytime you have an engine, much less two engines shut down for no apparent reason is reason enough to divert, even if they started up again. SOMETHING went wrong. Until cause has been determined, the plane needs to be out of service.

  12. Does anyone know if the cabin lights would stay on in the event of a total loss of engine power?

  13. In the event of total loss of engine power, the cabin lights could be powered by the APU–the pilots must turn it on, as it’s only powered on (typically) while on the ground.

  14. @Gean…. Civil Law, (therefore suing) is in place to provide recompense for damages suffered not to punish. We have ciminal law for that. As no one has suffered any damages from being ferried to their intended destinaton the I can’t see anything that can be sued for.

  15. I do wonder in this day and age with such sophisticated weather reading equipment why airlines seem to get into trouble in storms. Surely on a medium haul flight like this they’d be able to map likely weather patterns and plan the flight paths accordingly? Anyway I’m just glad that they landed safely although I agree it is odd they didn’t land at nearest airport as a precaution. Was about to book SIA for my next long haul but might reconsider now…

  16. Agreed with Mavis M on the flight paths. With all hi-tech and sophisticated radar monitoring system, couldn’t air traffic controller warn them not to fly into the storm?

  17. @Gean, you must be american. First response is to sue anything in a 20 metre radius. The pilots did their job.

  18. I am an ex airline captain (Boeing 747-400) Trust me people, even as an industry professional there is no point speculating on what and why of this incident. Too many variables.

    I will say this… Often a diversion into an airfield that is closer can be more dangerous than continuing to destination or a further diversion airport with a known issue(s) There can be many reasons for continuing, bad weather (sounds probable here) unknown or critical airports, political issues and many more.

    Also the flight crew probably troubleshooted the problem and knew the cause, and knew they had rectified it. IF it was a double engine failure/ flameout and they didn’t know why, that is a full blown emergency even after restarting successfully (obviously) and that almost always means “land as soon as practicable” Practicable means the nearest (in time and/or distance) airport that is viable and reasonable… i.e not a tiny airfield that can just squeeze in. If you are on fire and over the Canadian arctic wasteland, a 3000 foot gravel strip will do for a 747 in the absence of anything else for hundreds of miles, it would be rough and ugly but survival and walk away even with a limp is better than being overcome with smoke and hence certain death. The SIA incident was clearly far from that extreme. Assuming things I don’t really know though!!

    SIA is well known for an intense and hopefully high standard in training their crews, they are definitely not an airline that skimps on safety or accepts lax standards from their pilots.

    Am I making any sense to people!?

  19. storms don’t appear from nowhere and then sit there. they are constantly moving, changing and forming. honestly, people can you let the backseat driving go? pilots want to survive the flight just as much as the passengers do. the amount of speculation and second-guessing regarding this is absurd.

  20. Ignorance is a bliss. Sometimes it is best not to reveal everything.

    I work in operating rooms and I must admit, things do go wrong but doctors job is to fix those problems. I agree if there is an adverse outcome then patient should be told what had happened. But most times there is no adverse outcome and patients don’t need to know.

    These was once someone told the patient that his heart had stopped for a few seconds (it happens as a normal physiological response to stress, that’s why we faint, and almost always, the heart beat just comes back by itself), nothing major and patient recovered. But because he was told his heart had “stopped”, he got really worried and believe he lost 1 billion brain cells. He couldn’t focus at his work and got fired. So he is suing the hospital now.

    Classic example of ignorance is a bliss. It would have been better if he didn’t know about it.

  21. @Gean – Probably not. Considering the fact how much of a mess HKG was that day (meaning it would’ve caised lots of trouble for the airport, delays for passengers and the need to wiat for everything to be inspected and the engines fixed, which probably meant an overnight), and that there were neither injuries nor major damage to the aircraft that would warrant the need for an emergency landing, it was probably best of them to continue on to Shanghai. Had only one engine worked, or the plane actually plunged as the daily mail said, or had any of the passengers been injured, and the plane didnt divert, then yes. But under the current circumstances, no.

  22. @Andy:

    “There can be many reasons for continuing, bad weather (sounds probable here) unknown or critical airports, political issues and many more…Practicable means the nearest (in time and/or distance) airport that is viable and reasonable… i.e not a tiny airfield that can just squeeze in.”

    Once again, there are three international airports between Hong Kong and Shanghai, all of them with at least one >10,000 feet runway; one of them even has regular scheduled service to/from Singapore. And all three had perfectly acceptable weather.

  23. David, thanks for your comment. I’m fascinated by grammar but didn’t know when to use which or that.

    The Daily Mail article did use “plunge”, but it also said that the pilots put the aircraft into a controlled descent to start the second engine.

  24. It is NOT possible to divert to Hong Kong instead of continuing to China, as some ignorant bum suggest. Just as it is NOT possible to divert to Hawaii instead of continuing to the United States. Nor is it possible to divert to Alaska instead of continuing to the United States.

    Diverting from Hawaii to the continental United States or from Alaska to the lower 48 United States are entirely possible though, just as it is possible to divert from Hong Kong to MAINLAND China. Colonial mentality hangover, eh? Time to get over it…

  25. How can it even be possible to divert to Hong Kong instead of continuing to China, as some ignorant bum proposed? I mean, can you divert a plane to Hawaii instead of continuing to the United States? Or to Alaska instead of continuing to the United States? Impossible feat, I would say!

    It is however entirely possible to divert a plane to Hawaii instead of continuing to the continental United States, just as it is possible to divert to Alaska instead of continuing to the lower 48 States. And so likewise, it is possible to divert to Hong Kong instead of continuing to Mainland China.

    Some people love to travel to experience another culture. For starter, it would be good to understand cultural sensitivity when it comes to colonial mentality.

  26. Considering you can nearly always tell when a pilot pulls back on power to begin the landing descent, I’m surprised a total loss of power wouldn’t also be felt. Hmm.

    I also wonder if anyone was joining the mile high club in the loo at the time.

  27. @ Gean — Given that we really don’t know what happened, I’d say no. Let’s see if there’s an investigation and if there any negligence involved, or if protocol was followed. Regardless, I don’t think they should be sued, but if the findings show procedure wasn’t followed, it would certainly change my feelings of the airline’s safety.

  28. Airbus release some information to A330 operator around the world… And it looks pretty serious to me… Still very disappointed that SQ decided to continue to destination instead of diverting. Icing induce engine issues (which is what seems like the case here) can cause significant damaged to the engine fan blades that the pilot will not be able to tell at the time. Even though in this particular instance, no damaged was found, it is still irresponsible to not divert to the nearest online port. The follow is the info Airbus release to A330 operators.

    “The airline reported that this event occurred when trying to avoid adverse weather conditions.

    Preliminary analysis of the flight data suggests that the engine #2 stalled 3 times and the engine #1 twice, during a total duration of approximately 13 seconds, with the Nacelle Anti Ice OFF and Wing Anti Ice ON. The airline reported that the continuous ignition was ON.

    Then the engines self-recovered and responded to the thrust lever movements. The flight data also indicates that the engine #1 shut down was commanded shortly after. 28 seconds later, the engine #1 restart was attempted at Flight Level 370 without success.

    Then, the aircraft descended to Flight Level 260, and the second engine #1 in-flight relight was successful with normal engine parameters behavior.”

  29. Lucky – the aircraft involved was an A330, but the interior shot you show is of a 777.

  30. Did Andrew send you the extended report of the flight, or is it imagination?
    The original comment by Andrew in the first post is very brief, not 3 paragraphs long!

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