KARACHI: A Karachi-bound flight from Madina put passengers at risk when it took off with a faulty air-conditioning system over the weekend, delaying their arrival by more than three hours.

Sources claim that many pilgrims fainted on board due to suffocation and a rise in cabin temperature.

A video confirming this went viral on social media on Monday when a verified Twitter account @airlivenet posted a video of passengers passing out in front of the plane’s marked exits. The initial video which was shared by an on-board passenger shows people fanning themselves with leaflets while some elderly men passed out in front of the exit.

Cabin fever

The Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV-706 was scheduled to arrive in Karachi in the afternoon on Saturday bringing home Haj pilgrims but was unable to do so on time due to unknown reasons.

According to passengers, mostly women and children, they learnt that the air-conditioning was not working on board after they sat down in the aircraft. Many complained to the airline’s staff and were told that the issue would be fixed before they took off. However, a passenger said, that this did not happen for the duration of their flight.

A female passenger passed out on the Karachi-bound flight from Madina on Saturday, in a photograph by Sarah Iqbal widely circulated on Twitter.
A female passenger passed out on the Karachi-bound flight from Madina on Saturday, in a photograph by Sarah Iqbal widely circulated on Twitter.

Standard operating procedure suggests that an aircraft can make an emergency landing due to a medical emergency or problem.

A source at Karachi airport confirmed that the incident took place.

He said that the cabin crew learnt about a technical problem after all passengers had boarded the aircraft.

Due to this issue [which interfered with the air-conditioning], he explained, the plane did not take off for an hour or so. “Eventually the crew decided that it would be best to continue with the flight, hoping that the air-conditioning would start working soon,” he added.

Fasten your seatbelts

Sarah Iqbal and her husband were flying back to Karachi on SV-706 to collect their children from her parent’s before heading home to Doha.

“We were scheduled to depart at 13.30 Saudi time but the flight was delayed by two hours. While waiting on board we learnt that the aircraft’s cooling was not working and they needed time to get the cabin temperature down,” she said while talking to Dawn.

“After half an hour they started boarding more than 300 Hajis. We were in the hangar tunnel and noticed that the air hostess was sweating profusely and welcoming the passengers on board — their makeup with melting off their faces but they didn’t really have a choice,” she added.

After she found her seat, Ms Iqbal claimed that it was quite warm inside the plane. “The cabin crew and their supervisor told us that the air-conditioning would start working once we were in the air,” she said.

“We eventually took off at 16.30pm and it was boiling. The AC vents were exhaling hot air. People started getting very restless and kept getting up from their seats and complaining.

‘‘The supervisor rudely told them to wait another half an hour. After flying for about 45 minutes, elderly ladies started to lose consciousness and others were feeling dizzy due to the temperature and confined space,” she explained.

“Doctors who were on the plane helped revive the passengers who had fainted. We later found out that the air-conditioning was working fine in the cockpit.

‘‘The crew also asked the families of passengers who had fainted to sign a declaration that the airline was not responsible for the medical conditions and when they refused, the crew started to misbehave,” she added.

When contacted, a staff member at the Saudi Airlines operations office at Karachi airport — who answered the phone call — said they were not authorised to comment.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2017

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