Plane reaches 14,500 feet before crew notices windows are missing

Article content

A U.S.-bound commercial airplane took off with missing and damaged windows and was forced to return to London mid-flight, according to the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

The Airbus A321 jet had already taken off when it was discovered that “several cabin windows” had been damaged by “high power lights used during a filming event” prior to the flight, the AAIB said.

Article content

The AAIB’s inspection found that two cabin windowpanes were missing and two were out of position.

The flight, which took off from London Stansted Airport en route for Orlando International Airport in Florida on Oct. 4, was carrying 11 crew members and nine passengers, the AAIB’s bulletin said.

Related Stories

While on the flight, passengers noted that the cabin seemed unusually colder and noisier than it normally would have, but it was only when a crew member walked to the back of the carrier that they too agreed that it was “loud enough to damage your hearing” and realized something was amiss.

The cabin crew spotted a window with a seal that was “flapping in the airflow.”

“The cabin crew told the passengers to remain seated and keep their seatbelts fastened, and reminded them about the use of oxygen masks if that became necessary,” the report said.

The aircraft reached an altitude of over 14,500 feet (4,400 metres) with an airtime of 36 minutes before it returned safely to London.

Article content

The report noted that the airplane could have resulted in “more serious consequences” if “window integrity” had been “lost at higher differential pressure.”

Upon landing and disembarking the passengers, the crew inspected the plane from the outside and discovered that two window panes were missing, a third was dislodged, and a fourth “protruded from the left side of the fuselage.”

The missing windows were only filled with scratch pane, which is a cosmetic piece of plastic designed to prevent passengers touching the outer panes, the Independent reported.

Investigators determined that the windows may have “sustained thermal damage and distortion” as a result of increased temperatures when the airplane was used during filming before the flight.

The AAIB said the aircraft was used for filming and had powerful lights set up near the plane to “give the illusion of a sunrise” for several hours.

The report noted that the lights used were not meant to be any closer than 10 metres from the object being illuminated, but were between six and nine metres from the damaged windows.

The AAIB did not disclose the purpose of the filming event.

Our website is the place for the latest breaking news, exclusive scoops, longreads and provocative commentary. Please bookmark and sign up for our newsletters here.

Share this article in your social network