An Air China jet made a rapid emergency descent after a co-pilot mistakenly turned off air-conditioning systems in a bid to hide his e-cigarette smoke, Chinese media quoted the country's civil aviation authority as saying Friday.
Air China flight CA106, en route from Hong Kong to the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, descended from above 10,000 meters to below 4,000 meters n less than nine minutes Tuesday shortly after it reached cruising altitude, according to phone Global Positioning System data shared with CNN by a passenger on board.
Smoking is not allowed aboard Chinese commercial passenger flights.
But the co-pilot accidentally switched off air-conditioning instead, leading to a decrease in cabin oxygen levels.
CAAC official Qiao Yibin said "severe punishment" will be handed "in accordance with laws and regulations", as reported by CNN.
Air China Flight CA106 from Hong Kong to Dalian in China lost altitude a half an hour into the scheduled 5:55 pm trip.
News of this incident began to circulate on Chinese social media as pictures of passengers wearing oxygen masks on the plane alarmed netizens.
"Smoke diffused into the passenger cabin and relevant air conditioning components were wrongly shut off, without notifying the captain, which resulted in insufficient oxygen", it added.
Once they saw that the air conditioning had been turned off, they reactivated it and brought the flight back to its normal altitude.
Authorities are reportedly investigating the cause "in greater detail", examining both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder to determine precisely what caused the incident.
China's Civil Aviation Administration said smoke seeped into the passenger cabin, which can carry up to 215 passengers, according to state media.
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.
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