British passenger who died after Singapore Airlines plane hit turbulence is named

A British airline passenger who died when a Singapore Airlines flight from Heathrow Airport hit severe turbulence has been named. Geoffrey Ralph Kitchen, 73, suffered a suspected heart attack.

The musical theatre director, from Thornbury in Gloucestershire, was travelling with his wife at the time. Kittipong Kittikachorn, general manager at Suvarnabhumi airport - where the flight was diverted to - confirmed that the 73-year-old man had passed away.

Kittikachorn added that the pensioner's wife is also in hospital, but that her condition was unknown. He said that seven other people were seriously injured, with dozens more suffering minor injuries. One of the passengers on board Flight SQ321 to Singapore said the plane suffered a “dramatic drop”, meaning people not wearing a seatbelt were “launched immediately into the ceiling”.

Images posted on social media showed damage to the ceiling of the cabin, and food, cutlery and other debris strewn on the floor in the aftermath of the incident. The flight, a 16-year-old Boeing 777 jet, departed at 10.17pm on Monday and was diverted to Bangkok, landing at 3.45pm local time (9.45am BST) on Tuesday. There were 211 passengers and 18 crew on board.

Singapore Airlines said: "Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, operating from London Heathrow to Singapore on May 20, encountered severe turbulence en-route. We can confirm that there are injuries and one fatality on board.

"Singapore Airlines offers its deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. Our priority is to provide all possible assistance to all passengers and crew on board the aircraft. We are working with the local authorities in Thailand to provide the necessary medical assistance and sending a team to Bangkok to provide any additional assistance needed."

Tracking data published by FlightRadar24 shows the plane was cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet over the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar shortly after 9am BST when it sharply dropped by 6,000 feet.

Student Dzafran Azmir, 28, who was on the flight, told Reuters: “Suddenly the aircraft starts tilting up and there was shaking so I started bracing for what was happening, and very suddenly there was a very dramatic drop, so everyone seated and not wearing a seatbelt was launched immediately into the ceiling.

“Some people hit their heads on the baggage cabins overhead and dented it, they hit the places where lights and masks are and broke straight through it.”

A passenger from London, who gave his name as Andrew, told BBC Radio 5 Live the seat belt sign came on, he followed the instruction, and “at that very moment, the plane suddenly dropped”.

“The thing I remember the most is seeing objects and things flying through the air," he said. “I was covered in coffee. It was incredibly severe turbulence.”

He heard “awful screaming” as the plane was dropping, and what “sounded like a thud”.

Aviation consultant John Strickland said that “turbulence happens” but with millions of flights operated each year, incidents are “limited” and “fatalities are rare”.

He said: “Exposure is greater in different parts of the world. The South Atlantic, Africa and the Bay of Bengal are all places that spring to mind where there’s a greater incidence. There are discussions about whether climate change is influencing an increase in occurrences.”

Mr Strickland said airlines use a variety of methods to minimise the chances of a flight being affected by turbulence, such as weather forecasts, radar and reports from aircraft ahead. He added: “It can never be taken lightly when airlines recommend you keep the seatbelt loosely fastened throughout the flight.”

Joji Waites, head of flight safety at pilots’ union Balpa, said: “Balpa sends its thoughts to the family and friends of those affected by this event.

“Aircraft are designed and certificated to withstand flight in severe turbulence, and pilots are trained in how to anticipate potential turbulence encounters based on weather forecasts and the aircraft’s onboard technology.

“Route weather forecasts provide a general prediction of when turbulence is likely to occur, but they often cannot reflect actual conditions in sufficient detail to enable pilots to avoid specific instances of turbulence.

“It is important, therefore, for aircraft occupants to have their seatbelts fastened while seated should any unexpected encounters occur and comply promptly with ‘fasten seat belt’ signs when asked to do so.”