Some of the passengers on an Airbus A320 misunderstood the captain’s directive to “disembark … immediately” after being diverted to Cork Airport and — instead of exiting through the doors, as the captain intended — opened the emergency overwing exits and slid down the escape slides, according to a report by Ireland’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).
The AAIU’s final report on the Nov. 2, 2017, incident, published Tuesday, said that the emergency evacuation resulted in no immediate injuries but that one passenger “became unwell” later and was taken to a hospital.
The diversion was prompted by fumes in the cockpit of the A320 during what was to have been the second roundtrip flight of the day between Cork and London Heathrow. The crew first noticed a burning smell as they flew the A320 through Flight Level 260 (approximately 26,000 ft). As the fumes became “strong and persistent,” they donned oxygen masks, declared an emergency and returned to Cork.
The crew flew the A320 manually and landed safely on Runway 35. Then the captain, after ensuring that cabin crewmembers and ground personnel were prepared for passengers to disembark, made a public address system announcement calling on passengers to begin a “rapid disembarkation.”
The senior cabin crewmember added, “Please leave all cabin baggage behind you and make your way to the nearest exit.”
Most passengers and crewmembers headed for the forward and aft steps, but “passengers seated in the emergency exit rows opened the overwing emergency exits and approximately 32 passengers disembarked onto the aircraft wings,” the report said. “Half of these passengers used the escape slides. The other half returned to the passenger cabin and exited the aircraft using the front and rear steps.”
When the cabin crew realized that the overwing exits had been opened, the senior cabin crewmember made another announcement, telling passengers to “please remain calm and please exit the aircraft through the back doors and the forward doors.”
Both announcements complied with the operator’s standard operating procedures, the AAIU report said.