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Buckle Up!

By Jonathan van Bilsen

Many of you may have recently heard about the devastating turbulence encountered, on a flight from London to Singapore. The turbulence was so severe a passenger died, and many others were injured.

Geoff Kitchen, a 73-year-old British man, died from a suspected heart attack onboard, while several others remain seriously injured. The Singapore-bound Boeing 777-300ER diverted to Bangkok, following the mid-air incident, making an emergency landing, with 211 passengers and 18 crew members aboard.

A total of 104 people were treated, and 58 remained in hospital, 20 of whom were in the intensive care unit. The aircraft suddenly dropped with very little warning, causing objects to fly through the air. People were doused in coffee, during the incredibly severe turbulence. Those not wearing seatbelts were thrown into the ceiling, as the plane abruptly dropped.

Accidents involving Singapore Airlines are rare, with the carrier consistently ranking among the world's safest. The last fatal accident occurred in the year 2000, when a Boeing 747 crashed, while attempting to take off from the wrong runway, at a Taiwan airport.

Turbulence is most commonly caused by aircraft flying through clouds, however, there is also ‘clear air’ turbulence which is not visible on a jet's weather radar. This type of turbulence is caused by the air near the jet streams. They wrap around our planet and can be turbulent even though the skies look clear.

Turbulence is a change in the air around an airplane. Because air is fluid, like water, currents of air move up and down, ripple out, change direction, and change speed. Some causes of turbulence are easier to predict. Thunderstorms, for example, which show on radar, push air up and down, so pilots use weather reports and instruments to avoid the worst of the storm.

The movement of air as it is warmed by the sun, also causes turbulence. Changes in weather are another cause, as are mountains and other geographical features. Airplanes themselves disturb the air and can cause turbulence for the flight behind them which is one reason air traffic controllers give airplanes space and why you might have to wait to take off.

Although injuries from severe turbulence are relatively rare, considering the millions of flights operated, wearing a seatbelt can be the difference between life and death. Anything not bolted down is at risk during severe turbulence. Research has shown, climate change will make severe turbulence more likely in the future.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker.

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