Chinese pilot lands plane after cockpit window smashes

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The Sichuan Airlines plane with a shattered windshield touches down at Chengdu Airport on Monday morning. Photo: Handout

A veteran Chinese pilot calmly landed a passenger plane after a windshield panel burst 9,750 meters above the ground, with 119 passengers and nine crew on board, and is now being lauded as “China’s Captain Sully.”

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a pilot for US Airways, became famous when he safely landed an airliner onto Hudson River in New York City on January 15, 2009, saving 155 passengers after both engines stalled after being hit by a flock of geese shortly after taking-off.

The Sichuan Airlines pilot, Liu Chuanjian, was in an Airbus A319 narrow-body jet en route from the southwestern municipality of Chongqing to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Monday morning, his first flight of the day.

Captain Liu managed to keep his cool as a stream of freezing air at a temperature as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius blasted through the cockpit once the window blew out, blurring his view as the plane instantly started to decompress.

The head and arms of Liu’s first officer were sucked into the broken window due to the sudden change in cabin pressure.

Liu managed to send a “squawk 7700” stress signal and maneuvered the plane to approach Chengdu Airport at about 7:40am and safely landed there, about 20 minutes after the window blew out.

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Captain Liu Chuanjian (center) is now being hailed as China’s ‘Captain Sully.’ Photo: Sichuan Airlines
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The plane with a missing windshield panel. Photo: Weibo
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View from the cockpit with the windshield on the right missing. Photo: Weibo

“This is probably the first such case in China’s civil aviation history, as the captain had to simultaneously battle against huge noise, equipment malfunction and a sharp decrease in cabin pressure to wrestle control of a broken plane,” Wang Ya’nan, the deputy editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the People’s Daily.

The aviation expert estimated the speed of the air stream that thrust into the cockpit could have been up to 500 kilometers per hour.

“It was like driving a roadster at an extreme speed at an extreme temperature,” Liu told reporters when he landed after the incident above the Tibetan Plateau, known as the roof of the world.

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The Airbus A319 plane on the ground being checked at Chengdu Airport. Photo: Weibo via VCG

Before joining Sichuan Airlines, Liu was a pilot with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and accumulated more than 20 years of flying experience. He had flown the Chongqing-Lhasa route “more than 100 times” before the incident.

“It happened as the flight attendants were serving us meals. People were shocked and started screaming, and some even started vomiting. There was a feeling of weightlessness and suffocation and I saw oxygen masks drop out of overhead compartments,” a passenger on board the Lhasa-bound flight told the scrum of reporters at Chengdu Airport.

All 119 passengers and crew members survived the ordeal largely unscathed. About passengers were sent to hospital for minor injuries and symptoms of decompression sickness.

Captain Liu and his first officer were all safe and sound, other than a few bruises, and they just needed some rest, said the airline, which urged the media to respect their privacy.

The accident is being investigated by the China Civil Aviation Administration and Airbus China is sending a group of technicians to help ascertain the cause, Chinese news portal Sina reported.

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