CORRECTION AND RETRACTION – The actual date of this incident was Monday, August 25, 2008. We apologize to our readers and to Ryanair for this unintentional error in fact, which resulted from following a misdated search engine link. As this event happened nearly three years ago, it should not be considered newsworthy, or reflect in any way upon the current operations or outstanding safety performance of Ryanair.
A Boeing 737-800 operated by Ryanair as Flight FR-9336 experienced a loss of pressurization late on Monday evening, August 25, 2008 while traveling at 34,000 feet on a route from Bristol Airport (BRS) in South West England to Girona-Costa Brava Airport (GRO) outside of Barcelona, Spain, causing the aircraft to divert to Limoges – Bellegarde Airport (LIG) near Limoges, France, as reported on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 by France 24, BBC News, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, The Guardian, and other media accounts.
The aircraft, built in 2006, and last serviced the previous day, August 24, is one of 272 planes in the Irish carrier’s all Boeing 737-800 fleet, with 40 more planes on order to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding low cost airline that was founded 26 years ago in 1986.
The almost full flight of mostly British vacationers was carrying 168 passengers and 7 crew members.
Many of those aboard experienced moments of sheer terror, after observing a rush of cold air coming from the rear of the plane, as if someone had opened an exit door.
As oxygen masks dropped, the flight deck crew put the plane into a steep dive, dropping 26,000 feet, or 5,200 feet per minute for five minutes, until leveling out at 8,000 feet.
One woman, Charlotte Thorthon, a 22-year-old British medical student, told a reporter at Agence France-Presse (AFP), “I sent my mum a text message, ‘I love you and I am going down’. I called her half an hour later and she couldn’t believe I was OK.”
Others were badly shaken as well.
Some passengers, including British Arctic explorer Pen Hadow, who was on the flight, complained that their masks were not functioning.
According to Mr Hadow, in speaking with a France 24 correspondent the following day, “Mine wasn’t filling up with oxygen and neither was my son’s. He was hyper ventilating. I looked at the lady on my left and hers hadn’t filled up either.”
Other passengers were thought to have passed out, and many complained of ear pain and possible ruptured eardrums.
There were also complaints that there were no reassuring words or even explanations coming from the flight deck, which Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary would later defend by claiming that all of the masks were functioning properly, and that the pilots could not communicate with the passengers during the sharp descent, because they were also wearing oxygen masks covering their faces.
An announcement was made at 8,000 feet, after the plane was in level flight again, that they would be diverting to Bellegarde Airport (LIG) in Limoges, France, as seen in the attached slide show which accompanies this report. There is also a video clip on the making of a Ryanair charity bikini calendar.
After the aircraft landed at 11:30 p.m. local time, with emergency vehicles lining the sides of the single 8,202 foot asphalt runway, 16 people were admitted to a local hospital complaining of ear pain or hearing problems.
French police described the incident as a “brutal decompression”.
Ryanair issued a statement saying that the plane, “experienced an in-flight depressurisation incident which caused the oxygen masks on board to deploy. As a safety precaution the captain descended and diverted the aircraft to Limoges airport.”
The carrier also provided a replacement plane which was flown in from London Stansted Airport (STN). It transported 127 passengers on Tuesday, August 26 to Barcelona. The remaining 41 travelers decided to continue their voyage to Spain by chartered coach.
The Irish and French aviation authorities have been notified of this incident and a full investigation is already underway.
There has been no statement from the carrier on how, if at all, those on the flight would be further compensated for their terrifying experience.
Tell us your thoughts. Please leave comments below or by email and subscribe to get future updates. There is also expanded coverage of other recent news articles. You may also wish to follow our dispatches as the News Analysis Examiner.