'Sheer Terror' Aboard Singapore Jetliner Hit with Violent Turbulence

May 23, 2024

Turbulence Intensity

A 73-year-old British man died of a suspected heart attack when extreme turbulence rattled a Singapore Airlines flight earlier this week. The event caused 71 passengers and crew members to seek medical treatment. Six of them were badly injured. 

Turbulence is caused by irregular air movement outside the plane. The air causes sharp changes in the altitude or the angle of the plane. To passengers, this feels like a very bumpy ride.  

Unfortunately, people who take to the skies are likely to see more extreme events of turbulence. Climate change is impacting jet streams. They're the narrow bands of wind in higher altitudes of the atmosphere.  

Those on the Singapore flight described Wednesday how their plane plunged. They said it caused “sheer terror.”

“I arrived back in the airport and I couldn’t stop (throwing up). I couldn’t walk — it was pretty bad,” Josh Silverstone, 24, told The Associated Press (AP). He was discharged from a hospital with a cut in his eye and a chipped tooth. Still, he said the incident could have been “way worse.”  

Officials said it remains unclear what caused extreme turbulence on the Boeing 777 aircraft. It carried 211 passengers and 18 crew members. What is known: The plane plunged downward about 6,000 feet over three minutes. The flight from London to Singapore then changed course to Bangkok, Thailand. By Wednesday, 20 people remained in an intensive care unit of a Bangkok hospital, the AP stated. 

Oddly enough, turbulence is not necessarily linked to severe storms. The most risky type is called “clear air turbulence.” Wind shears can form in high-altitude cirrus clouds or on the outskirts of thunderstorms. This happens as disparate temperatures and air pressure mix to create swiftly moving air currents.   

Reflect: Why do you think it is important for pilots and airlines to be prepared for different kinds of weather?

Based on the information in the infographic, an aircraft that is violently tossed around and nearly impossible to control would most likely be experiencing _______ turbulence. (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. light
b. moderate
c. severe
d. extreme
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