An emergency descent by an Air China aircraft after oxygen levels dropped in the cabin has been linked to a co-pilot who was smoking an e-cigarette during the flight, state media said today, citing China's aviation regulator.
Air China flight CA106 was flying to Dalian in northeast China on Tuesday when it dropped from 35,000ft to about 14,000ft, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed the masks hanging from the ceiling, but no noticeable panic among the passengers.
A senior official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told reporters Friday that, without notifying the pilot, the unnamed co-pilot was trying to turn off air recycling fans to prevent the vapor from spreading into the passenger cabin.
Then it climbed again to continue to its destination.
Chinese officials said that the plane's co-pilot was vaping in the cockpit.
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However, he "mistakenly switched off the air-conditioning unit that was next to it, resulting in insufficient oxygen in the cabin and an altitude warning", said Qiao Yibin of the China's air traffic regulatory body CAAC.
The crew returned to normal cruising altitude once it was discovered that the air conditioning was, in fact, turned off.
It added that it was continuing to investigate the incident.
Instead, the wingman accidentally triggered a drop in oxygen levels, prompting an altitude warning that caused the almost fatal plunge - from 32,800 to 13,100 feet in less than nine minutes, Civil Aviation Administration of China officials told the station.
China bars flight crews from "smoking on all phases of operation", and passengers there haven't been able to use e-cigarettes on planes since 2006. The statement said: "If the investigation reveals that the crew has violated regulations, the company will seriously deal with the responsible person with zero tolerance".