Passengers on an Aer Lingus flight to Heathrow that made an emergency return to Cork Airport due to smoke in the cockpit described "chaotic" scenes in the cabin that resulted in passengers opening the overwing emergency exits.
The incident occurred at 1 pm on November 1, 2017, on the regular lunchtime flight from Cork to London. There were 143 passengers and six crew on board.
Shortly after the flight took off the captain reported fumes in the cockpit and declared a Mayday, donning oxygen masks and making an immediate return to Cork Airport.
The plane landed safely and was met by emergency services.
A report from the Air Accident Investigation Unit heard that the Commander of the flight made an announcement to the passengers to initiate a ‘Rapid Disembarkation’.
“Attention, attention, this is the Captain. Disembark the aircraft immediately, disembark the aircraft immediately," the report states.
Most of the passengers and crew exited the aircraft using the front and rear steps.
However, passengers seated in the emergency exit rows opened the overwing emergency exits that triggered the inflation of the slides and approximately 32 passengers climbed out onto the aircraft wings.
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.
A passenger told investigators that the pilot was “excellent” but that the disembarkation was “chaotic”.
He said that following the captain's announcement, passengers did not know what to do and some opened the overwing emergency exits.
The passenger said he disembarked through one of these exits and stood on the aircraft wing where two other passengers were assisting people in getting through the emergency exit.
The unnamed passenger informed the investigation that the “evacuation” procedure was frightening.
The report found that the fumes were caused by the failure of a blower fan but the purpose of the report was to ascertain why the emergency exits were used.
Following the incident, Aer Lingus reviewed the Rapid Disembarkation Procedure and said it intends to revise their guidance material, which addresses an escalation from a rapid disembarkation to a full evacuation.