Yesterday we reported that an Onur Air A321 passenger aircraft flying from Dalaman to Birmingham made an emergency landing at Istanbul Ataturk Airport following a loss of cabin pressure on Friday. Read a passengers account of the events here.

Yesterday we reported that an Onur Air A321 passenger aircraft flying from Dalaman to Birmingham last Friday made an emergency landing at Istanbul Ataturk Airport following a loss of cabin pressure. Read a passengers account of the events here.

Myself and my girlfriend had just spend a wonderful 2 weeks in Turkey but now it was time to reluctantly head home. The journey home is always a bore with all the waiting around at the airport, queuing to check in and board. We were booked to fly with Onur Air, flight OHY 619 from Dalaman to Birmingham on Friday 7 September 2007. But this flight turned into a nightmare for us and our fellow passengers as our plane developed a major fault and was forced to make an emergency landing amid passenger panic.

We’d been in the air for about 40-50 minutes when the drama started. The aircraft lost cabin pressure and was forced to reduce altitude. Maybe it was a combination of the loss of pressure and the pilot’s actions but it felt like we were dropping like a stone. Pressure was lost again and again and on the third time the oxygen masks tumbled down in front of us all sending all of the passengers into an instant panic. I found out later from another passenger that one of the masks fell apart completely and that they were keeping it for evidence. There were some teenage girls a couple of rows behind us that started uncontrollably screaming which only served to frighten us even more.

We were lucky enough to have secured seats with extra leg room which meant that we were next to an emergency exit. We did not have a window seat which we are now quite grateful for. Other passengers with window seats later reported that we were over water when the oxygen masks were deployed.

We were informed by the pilot that we were making an emergency landing due to technical problems. While he was speaking, I could hear the sound of ground control in the background. It seemed it was all go in the cock pit. I could smell burning and at this point I swear to God, I thought I was going to die.

My girlfriend, who was sat in the aisle opposite me, was holding the man’s hand next to her. It turns out he had grabbed hers in the panic. I later found out that the man next to my girlfriend was a trainee pilot in the RAF. He said he’d been through similar drills but had never been so frightened in his life either. It took 45 minutes to get into Istanbul, the longest and most terrifying 45 minutes of my life ever.

Upon descending into Istanbul the “seat belt warning” pinged 4 times in succession and then 6 times. I wondered if this was this a code for “we’re going to crash?” As none of us actually knew what was wrong with the aircraft, we were all worrying how the landing would go.

As we descended we could hear the plastic interior of the aircraft creaking with every touch of turbulence. The engine roared and revved in a fashion unlike I’d never experienced. There was a woman seated about 5 rows ahead of us that had a fit / panic attack. This was met by a male airline steward giving her an oxygen tank and shouting out, “Is there a doctor on board?!” He later had to strap himself into a seat next to the emergency exit as we were landing in the next 5 minutes. Passengers were panicking and accusing him of not doing enough to help the woman.

When we landed, everyone cheered and there were tears of relief throughout the aircraft. We were met at Ataturk Airport by many fire engines and ambulances. They followed us until the aircraft came to a halt.

Once in the airport we were ushered to a waiting room. We sat in that waiting lounge for 4.5 hours, exhausted with the images of what might happen going through our minds. We were frightened of getting on another plane. The airline gave no spokes person, no explanation and no apology or word of comfort.

It took around 2 hours before anyone acknowledged that we might require food and drink, not that many still had an appetite. However, we all had a raging thirst as the combination of fear and oxygen dries your mouth out something terrible. The airport made a tidy profit though as we had no alternative but to buy their expensive food and drink.

When they called our replacement flight number and told us that a new aircraft had been allocated, there was some debate between the passengers about whether we would board or not. Originally, everyone said they’d stick together and demand a flight via a British airline. But after waiting for a British Embassy representative to arrive to talk us through our options we found out that we’d have to pay from our own pockets if we wanted to fly with another airline. In the end, we all hesitantly boarded the Onur Air AirBus back to Birmingham. Everyone was on edge. Grown men were crying at the prospect of getting back on a plane.

The flight back took an agonizing 3hrs and 45 minutes. Every touch of turbulence made us tighten our grips on the seats.  Needless to say, there was a mass round of applause when we landed safely in Birmingham. We couldn’t believe that one of the stewardesses actually thanked us for flying with Onur Air and “hoped that we traveled with them again”. Nervous laughter erupted, followed by relaxing incidental music piped through the airline speakers.

We are both deeply traumatized by the event, as I’m sure all 218 passengers who took flight OHY 619 are. It still feels like some surreal dream because perhaps it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It might be some time before we can brave flying again. It’s frightening to think how vulnerable we really are. We put too much trust in our surroundings.

We cannot believe that this is the reaction and official line on what happened. A journalist from the Midlands paper, The Sunday Mercury, contacted Onur Air and a spokesman said, “There were pressure problems on the plane so it came back to Istanbul. The passengers then got on another flight back to Birmingham. People stayed calm because there was nothing wrong with the plane. There was no emergency landing.

”Kerim Ruzjar, Operations Manager from Gold Trail Holidays who charter flights from Onur Air has been quoted, “Like any airline, I’m sure they reassured their passengers and a replacement was sent to take them back to Birmingham.”

It goes some way to explain why we were not met with any form of explanation or apology in Istanbul as it would set them up for blame. Their comments, however, are ludicrous. Why a plane would be diverted to Istanbul and met by emergency services upon landing if it had not been an “emergency landing”? The pilot said as such upon our descent. There was a plane full of witnesses to vouch for this.

I’ve been checking out the safety record of Onur Air and have found some worrying information about alleged safety breaches. These of course have been countered by Onur Air, but it does make you think. So, I’ll be contacting Onur Air and the British Civil Aviation Authority to find out what really happened.

On a personal level, I would never wish for anyone to experience what we did on Friday morning. A million and one thoughts race through your mind in such a situation… Will we survive? How will we die? Will it hurt? I’d never been so happy to see Birmingham. But one thing is for sure, I won’t be flying with Onur Air again!

Steve Brayford