Published: Sat, July 14, 2018

Co-pilot tried to hide e-cigarette smoke, sparked mid-air emergency instead

Co-pilot tried to hide e-cigarette smoke, sparked mid-air emergency instead

Authorities have determined that an Air China flight's sudden, terrifying 21,000-foot descent was caused by a co-pilot smoking an electronic cigarette mid-flight, which triggered a series of events that led to the deployment of oxygen masks and, in turn, backlash against the pilot.

The Air China Boeing 737 aircraft was flying to the Chinese city of Dalian from Hong Kong, when it made an emergency descent to 3,048m, during which oxygen masks were deployed, before climbing again to continue on to its destination.

Chinese officials said that the plane's co-pilot was vaping in the cockpit.

An investigation into the incident by the Civil Aviation Administration of China discovered that the first officer was trying to hide the fact that he had been smoking an e-cigarette in the cockpit from the flight's captain, the BBC reported.

Air China Flight CA106 from Hong Kong to Dalian in China lost altitude a half an hour into the scheduled 5:55 pm trip.

"[The co-pilot] mistakenly switched off the air-conditioning unit that was next to it, resulting in insufficient oxygen in the cabin and an altitude warning", said CAAC investigator Qiao Yibin. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed the masks hanging from the ceiling, but no noticeable panic among the passengers.

Once they saw that the air conditioning had been turned off, they reactivated it and brought the flight back to its normal altitude.

It added that it was continuing to investigate the incident.

Air China also said in a previous Weibo post on Wednesday it had a "zero tolerance" approach towards wrongdoing by any crew.

"I didn't think too much of it at the time - we didn't know what was going on, nor did the flight attendants it seemed", he told CNN on Thursday.

Air China fired the entire flight deck crew and suggested CAAC revoke their pilot's licenses upon completing its investigation, the country's flag carrier said Friday night in a statement.

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