Air China pilots fired for mistake that plunged flight 25000 feet

Passengers were forced to use air masks

An emergency descent which saw an Air China plane drop thousands of feet allegedly took place after a co-pilot started smoking an e-cigarette during the flight.

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.

Chinese airlines have a good safety record in general, but passengers have, on occasion, accused pilots of smoking during flights.

The Boeing 737 jetliner was carrying 153 passengers and nine crew members on the three-hour journey and landed safely in Dalian, CAAC said Thursday.

Instead, he toggled the wrong switches, which were close to his intended target, leading to a drop in oxygen levels that triggered altitude warnings.

Then it climbed again to continue to its destination.

News of this incident began to circulate on Chinese social media as pictures of passengers wearing oxygen masks on the plane alarmed netizens.

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A senior official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China tells CNN the reason for the descent stems from a co-pilot smoking an e-cigarette.

"Smoke diffused into the passenger cabin and relevant air conditioning components were wrongly shut off, without notifying the captain, which resulted in insufficient oxygen".

The crew returned to normal cruising altitude once it was discovered that the air conditioning was, in fact, turned off.

Qiao Yibin, the CAAC official, promised to hand down "severe punishment in accordance with laws and regulations", if the regulator's final conclusion on the incident matches its initial finding.

The CAAC said it was continuing the investigation and was analysing the aircraft's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

Meanwhile, Air China added that if the pilot had indeed been smoking on the flight, they would deal with those responsible with "zero tolerance".

"[We] didn't know what was going on, nor did the flight attendants, it seemed", said Hoby Sun, a passenger on flight CA106.

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