Qantas flyers injured in sudden altitude plunge

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia’s air safety bureau is investigating the sudden altitude plunge of a Qantas airplane that left as many as 40 people injured, 20 of them seriously, during a flight from Singapore to the Western Australian city of Perth.

The A330-300, carrying 303 passengers and 10 crew, was forced to make an emergency landing Tuesday in Learmonth, Western Australia.

Two Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators were in Learmonth and five more were expected to arrive later Wednesday, the ATSB said. The investigators have quarantined the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and will interview crew and passengers.

The bureau was expected to give more details in a news conference later Wednesday.

Western Australia police said at least 20 passengers and crew were seriously injured _ some with spinal trauma and others with broken bones and lacerations. Up to 20 others were treated for minor injuries.

Passenger Ben Cave, of Perth, said he had not been wearing a seat belt and had slammed into the cabin roof when the plane plummeted.

“We had a major fall and another fall shortly after,” Cave said. “I hit the ceiling but I was OK, I only got a few bruises and strains.”

Jim Ford, also of Perth, said he thought he was about to die as he watched people being flung around the cabin.

“It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible, the worst experience of my life,” he said.

Qantas said in a statement Tuesday that it had no details as to what caused the altitude change. Calls to Qantas on Wednesday morning were unanswered.

The incident is the latest in a string of issues to plague the Australian airline since one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines in July after an oxygen tank exploded on board, ripping a gaping hole in the fuselage.

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