The Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL605 landed at the Melbourne airport less than an hour after departing from Tullamarine on Monday evening.
Passengers on board the Airbus A330-30 reportedly saw and smelled smoke in the cabin and more coming from the cockpit, which prompted the captain to declare an emergency within half an hour of take off.
The aircraft circled in the air for almost an hour before returning to the Melbourne airport around 7.20pm after the emergency squawk code of 7700 was sounded. The code indicates that the aircraft needs priority handling from air traffic control to land due to an emergency.
"In line with Melbourne Airport procedures, a local standby was declared, with emergency services responding as a precaution,” the airport said in a statement.
The aircraft landed safely and without incident and the passengers disembarked normally, it added.
Sri Lankan Airlines has pointed to a "technical issue" for the incident, which was being "currently assessed" by a team of technicians.
Dennis Bunnik, a YouTuber who happened to be on the flight, said he was filming a review when "I could feel about 30 minutes out of Melbourne that we were starting to descend".
— Dennis Bunnik (@DennisBunnik) February 12, 2024
"He said the captain then made the announcement: 'prepare for landing'. The air side of everything worked well, the emergency vehicles, all of that part worked really well," he told 9News.
"It's taken a good couple of hours to sort of work out what's happening, whether we could fly through on to Sri Lanka tonight or whether we needed to go to hotels," he said. "Bit of confusion, but eventually it was decided we're staying in Melbourne.
In a post on X, he praised the crew for handling it “very well”, adding that the captain advised that there was an issue with air conditioning.