“The windshield blasted open with a huge bang.”
Sichuan Airlines plane on runway
Credit: Getty Images

About 40 minutes after takeoff, the right cockpit windshield on a Sichuan Airlines flight broke off, causing decompression at 32,000 feet and leading to an emergency landing in Chengdu, China. The Airbus A319 was traveling from Chongqing to Lhasa.

“Without any sign, the windshield blasted open with a huge bang,” pilot Liu Chuanjian told Chengu Economic Daily. “When I looked over, the co-pilot’s body’s was hanging halfway out of the window.”

Parts of the cockpit, including the autopilot control panel, flew off the dashboard. Liu said that the emergency landing was extremely difficult because of the noise, flying debris, and inability to see much more than a few feet ahead of the aircraft.

The pilot who was sitting in the right-hand seat suffered scratches and a wrist sprain, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) Southwest Regional Administration. One crew member was injured during descent, according to Reuters.

Sichuan Airlines reported on its Weibo account that an aircraft had suffered a “mechanical failure.” The airline did not provide any more details.

There were 119 passengers on board, none of whom were injured by the incident. In Chengdu, they switched to another aircraft and continued their journey to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

It’s not incredibly uncommon for airplane windows to crack during flight, but to have an entire window break off is rare. In 1990, a British Airways pilot was injured when he was sucked out a broken cockpit window. In April, a blade flew off a broken engine on a Southwest flight and cracked a window, and one passenger was killed.