A Sichuan Airlines co-pilot was sucked halfway out of an aircraft's cockpit when its windshield shattered during a flight, Chinese state media has reported.
Flight 8633 left Chongqing, southwest of the Chinese capital of Beijing, just before 6:30 a.m. local time Monday. It was scheduled to land in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa about two and a half hours later.
Captain Liu Chuanjian said the Airbus A319 had been cruising mid-air when a deafening sound flooded the cockpit. "There was no warning," he told the Chengdu Business News.
"The windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I knew, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out," said Captain Liu. "Fortunately, he was wearing a seat belt." He was dragged back into the chaos of the cockpit, where pressure and temperature had dropped and the equipment was failing. Passengers were being served their breakfast when the plane plunged suddenly to 24,000ft from above 30,000 feet.
Liu described the terror as he managed to regain control of his aircraft during a taped interview with the Chengdu Business News.
The windshield shattered over the southwest city of Chengdu about 80 minutes after flight 3U8633 took off at 6:27 a.m. local time, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) said in statement released by CCTV.
"The situation was very critical. The windshield was blown off at a 10,000-meter-high altitude. The aircraft was in a state of low pressure and a temperature was minus 30 to minus 40 degree Celsius," Jiang Wenxue, a Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) official, was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.
However, none of the plane's 119 passengers were injured and the aircraft safely landed at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport in southern China. The co-pilot suffered scratches and a sprained wrist, the CAA said, adding that a flight attendant was also injured but passengers were mostly shaken by the near-escape.
Chinese people praised the pilot as an "epic hero" on social media, according to China News Service. "The crew were level-headed and dealt with the crisis decisively and properly, avoiding a major disaster, which shows the superb technical skills and professionalism," the CAA added.
An investigation into the incident is underway. The airline did not immediately comment Tuesday about what led to the shattered windshield, but apologized and referred to the incident as "mechanical failures."
The harrowing incident comes nearly a month after a woman on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York died after shrapnel from a blown engine smashed her window, forcing out part of her body. She was pulled back in by other passengers but died due to her injuries.