Pilot still shaken by shattered window
Training, experience were key to surviving traumatic episode in air
Airline captain Liu Chuanjian has a stern face and is expressionless most of the time. So the recent trauma doesn’t show. But he admits that he has not yet recovered from an emergency landing on Monday.
The 46-year-old pilot was in command of Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633, which took off from Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in Chongqing municipality at 6:26 am and was due in Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region, at 9:05 am.
At around 7 am, about 100 kilometers into the journey, Liu and co-pilot Xu Ruicheng heard a loud bang. They both shouted with alarm when they saw cracks in the windshield.
After feeling the cracks, Liu asked air traffic controllers for permission to return to the airport. But less than a minute later, the windshield shattered. The cabin decompressed, and co-pilot Xu was sucked halfway out the window.
“I was afraid and tried in vain to pull him inside,” Liu said. “He was far from me.”
Most of the equipment on the aircraft malfunctioned. Liu could not hear the radio or fellow crew members.
There was a shortage of oxygen and the temperature was -40 C. Liu didn’t notice the biting cold because he was preoccupied with landing the aircraft.
He felt more at ease after discovering he could operate the plane manually. “I had confidence I could land the aircraft safely because I had flown more than 100 times along the route,” he said.
He admitted to being troubled by the speed of landing. “There was inadequate air and it was very cold at high altitude. But if I lowered the aircraft too quickly, the force of the impact would endanger the crew,” Liu said.
He was able to make an emergency landing at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu, Sichuan province, about 45 minutes after the incident, saving all 119 passengers and nine crew members aboard, including Xu, who is recovering in hospital.
At 6:30 pm on Tuesday, Liu’s wife Zou Han, an aviation teacher at Chongqing University of Education, took a bullet train from Chongqing to Chengdu. She arrived by car at Sichuan Airlines three hours later. She opened the door of the vehicle and raced to her husband, holding him tearfully and speechlessly.
Liu graduated from an Air Force flight school of the People’s Liberation Army in 1995 and had taught pilots for 11 years before he went to work at Sichuan Airlines in 2006.
As a student, he was trained how to handle a shattered windshield, and as a teacher passed his knowledge along to prospective pilots.
Liu was born into an ordinary family in Chongqing, where his father worked in a cement plant and his mother was a farmer.
Pilot Liu Chuanjian (left) and with crew members of Sichuan Airlines Flight 3U8633 meet with the media in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Thursday.