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03 March 2024

Etihad mid-air drama: Passenger recounts smoke alarms experience

By Bindu Suresh Rai

A passenger aboard Etihad Airways flight EY461 described the experience as “genuinely scary” when 'something' triggered smoke alarms on board the Abu Dhabi-bound flight, prompting the pilot to divert the plane to Jakarta as a precautionary measure.
But the commotion was far from over, when smoke was detected yet again after the flight took off from Indonesia, forcing the airline crew to barricade the lavatories and put a halt to the food services a few hours to landing.
Passenger Luke Oliver who was on board the flight, which took off from Melbourne described the chain of events that led to the incident, saying the first smoke alarm set off when they were over the “edge of Western Australia and the ocean, with most of us asleep, when the alarms sounded in both toilets five rows in front of me.”
Describing the swift action by the airline staff, he said: “Within seconds staff had extinguishers and water with smoke billowing from both doors.
“The attendants spent about 45 seconds trying to extinguish the source.”
The smoke alarm was finally turned off but started a further two times during this period. 
He said: “This was genuinely scary, especially as the alarms continued to trigger and the flight crew seemed quite disturbed by the incident.”
Oliver described the situation saying that at this point in time the general feeling was that someone has used a cigarette that had triggered the alarms, prompting the flight captain to make announcement, “reminding us it is a criminal offense to smoke on the plane,” he continued.
But the alarms continued to sound at intervals.
Oliver, who said he was seated in the economy “over the wing” with the business class was eight rows in front said the set of toilets where the smoke alarms were triggered were “five rows in front and about 15 rows behind me. ”
He said: “A short time later while over the ocean the alarm sounded again and the toilets behind us were now extinguished.
“Friends told me that there was another incident, this time in the rear lavatory. 
“After this, the captain announced we would be diverting to Jakarta as he felt it was unsafe to fly any further.”
Oliver stated that at Jakarta airport, they we were led off the plane and taken through security where all lighters were confiscated from the passengers.
Passengers were also given water and rolls with an hour-long wait before they were led back on board.
Oliver continued: “The next leg of the trip was filled with anxiety…. Staff constantly locked lavatories and checked them each time it was occupied.”
However, a few hours from the UAE capital, the drama unfolded again.
“About 2.5 hours away from Abu Dhabi the alarms sounded again and the toilets behind us were extinguished,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe anyone would try again as the attendants had been so diligent at monitoring any activity.”
Oliver further added: “At this point we were told the plane was in a state of security breach and the attendants needed to secure the lavatories.
“We were also told breakfast would not be served and we could not use the toilets.”
Despite the arduous journey, Oliver was all praises for the crew.
“The staff seemed tired, but remained courteous while taking the incidents very seriously. Even when harassed by a couple of passengers they remained courteous,” he said, adding that he would “definitely” fly Etihad again.
He added: “After landing it took about an hour for us to disembark for further searches.”
Etihad has confirmed in a statement to Emirates 24|7 that Abu Dhabi police is investigating the matter.
In a statement, an Etihad spokesperson described the incident in detail, saying: “When smoke was detected in two of the toilets on flight EY 461 from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi on 17 February, the captain decided to divert the aircraft as a precautionary measure and land in Jakarta in order to allow the authorities to assist him conduct a security assessment of the situation.
“The flight landed normally.”
The spokesperson continued: “The flight resumed after a security search of the aircraft, passengers and their carry on luggage.
“The captain implemented strict controls over passenger movement in the cabin, particularly passenger access to the toilets.”
But a few hours before landing in the UAE capital, another alarm was triggered.
The spokesperson said: “A further toilet smoke alarm occurred two hours before arrival in Abu Dhabi as the cabin crew were preparing the meal service.
“The smoke was detected and dealt with immediately by the crew.
“The captain decided to position crew members at each of the toilets which meant that a normal cabin service was not possible.
“The service was discontinued and the crew continued to monitor and secure toilet access for the remainder of the flight.”
The spokesperson added that upon arrival at Abu Dhabi Airport, the passengers and the crew were interviewed by the local authorities after disembarkation.
He added: “The events that occurred during the flight remain under investigation and Etihad Airways is assisting the authorities to complete this as soon as possible.”