Panicked passengers on an Aer Lingus plane opened emergency exits and climbed onto the wings when they wrongly thought the pilot told them to evacuate

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesAn Aer Lingus plane in Ireland’s Dublin Airport in February 2018.
  • Several passengers on an Aer Lingus plane in November 2017 opened emergency exits, climbed out onto the wings, and used the escape slides because they wrongly thought their pilot was telling them to evacuate, a report about the incident released on Tuesday said.
  • The pilot had told passengers to “disembark the aircraft immediately,” the report said.
  • Numerous passengers misinterpreted the command, and about 32 climbed on the wings.
  • The aircraft was flying from the Irish city of Cork to London but turned around after crew members smelled something burning.
  • One passenger described the incident as “chaotic” and frightening.
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Several panicked passengers on an Aer Lingus flight in November 2017 opened emergency exits, climbed out onto the plane’s wings, and used the escape slides when they wrongly thought their pilot told them to evacuate after their plane was diverted.

After the flight from Cork, Ireland, to London’s Heathrow Airport returned to Cork Airport, the pilot told passengers to “disembark the aircraft immediately” and leave their baggage behind,said a report about the incident released on Tuesday by Ireland’s Air Accident Investigation Unit.

Crew members decided to turn around after they smelled something burning, according to the report.

The report said that the pilot intended for passengers to leave through the plane’s doors as normal but that about 32 climbed out onto the wings through the overwing emergency exits. It said about half of them left the plane using the escape slides and the others reentered the cabin to leave via the normal steps.

The report said that passengers “interpreted the Commander’s instruction as a full evacuation.”


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Aer Lingus emergency slideAir Accident Investigation Unit IrelandA screenshot from CCTV footage at Cork Airport showing the Aer Lingus plane with the exits and emergency slide still open after passengers had disembarked.

According to the report, when crew members noticed that passengers were using the emergency exits, they told the passengers to “please remain calm and please exit the aircraft through the back doors and the forward doors.”


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One passenger told investigators that the pilot was “excellent” but that it was “chaotic” when everyone tried to leave the plane, adding that people opened the emergency exits after they were unable to move behind a passenger with limited mobility who was being helped by a crew member.

He described the event as frightening and said adults and children on board were upset.

Aer Lingus Airbus A320Aer LingusAer Lingus aircraft.

The report said that passengers might have been alarmed when they saw a fire crew arrive and that they “wouldn’t necessarily know the difference between a ‘disembark’ and an ‘evacuate’ instruction.”

It also said that pilots’ instructions may have seemed louder than normal to passengers because the pilots were wearing oxygen masks.

The investigation found that a fan in the cockpit was the source of the fumes. The manufacturer is redesigning the fan, the report said.

The report made no safety recommendations but said that Aer Lingus intended to make the difference between a “rapid disembarkation” and a “full evacuation” clearer.

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