Passengers wake up to fire alarms and smoke
Etihad Airways continues to investigate how fires were lit on board a plane that departed from Melbourne on Monday night.PT1M43S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3333k 620 349 February 20, 2014
A dozen passengers detained after multiple fires were lit on board a flight that left Melbourne on Monday night have been released by Abu Dhabi security authorities.
The investigating Abu Dhabi authorities could not ascertain which of the 12, if any, passengers had possibly caused the fires so had to let them all go.
On Thursday afternoon, an Etihad Airways spokesman said all passengers that had been held for questioning after the series of fires that terrified passengers for hours were now free to continue their journeys.
If a passenger was responsible, there will be nothing to stop them boarding another flight. There was nothing to suggest that there was anything wrong with the aircraft that could have caused the blazes.
Flight EY461 from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi was forced to make an emergency landing at Jakarta airport, before arriving four hours late at Abu Dhabi airport, where local police searched passengers.
The plane was also searched and released shortly after arriving in Abu Dhabi.
According to passengers who contacted Fairfax Media, multiple fires were lit in the plane's toilets.
The small fires filled the cabin with smoke, panicking passengers and setting off smoke alarms.
The boyfriend of one passenger told Fairfax Media the plane was only able to stay in Jakarta for a few hours. Against many passengers' wishes, it then continued to Abu Dhabi.
Sarah Jeffery, a passenger on the flight, said said she was "dumbfounded by the risk Etihad took with its passengers' lives by continuing the flight".
"I am appalled by them, and think we are all very lucky to be here. It could have been much worse."
A few hours into the second leg of the flight, smoke was again detected coming from bathrooms.
The cabin crew then locked down all toilets, confined passengers to their seats and stopped serving meals and drinks.
Ms Jeffery said she awoke suddenly to the sounds of a "loud alarm, a flashing red light and rushing crew members".
"I looked and saw flames coming from the bin in the toilet, and two cabin crew members put it out," she said.
"It was very smoky, and it felt like the aircraft had filled with smoke."
She said that while the plane was flying above the Indian Ocean, another fire was ignited while crew members were preparing breakfast.
The staff – who Ms Jeffery said were "very vigilant" during the flight – quickly extinguished the blaze.
"At this point, we were all asked to remain seated, and the toilets couldn't be used," she said.
"Breakfast was not served, which also meant we had only had one drink and a muffin in over 12 hours."
"I was very frightened that we had two more hours before reaching Abu Dhabi, and I actually sent messages to my boyfriend and son telling them how much I loved them, in the hope that if anything happened they would receive them."
But another passenger, Paul Ross, said claims that passengers were left without food for 15 hours were "outrageous and almost completely untrue".
"Breakfast service was cancelled due to the seriousness of the situation, but if passengers wanted or needed food, they could come to the galley to get it themselves," he told Fairfax Media.
"We were served dinner, snacks, and drinks on the flight, as well as water and a snack in Jakarta."
Mr Ross said the Etihad crew was "remarkable" while dealing with life-threatening situations.
"I take offence of other passengers on this flight complaining about the service of Etihad, when the crew of Etihad were dealing with life threatening situations."
Kate Kilgour, who had been travelling with her two children, said passengers were given water, bread rolls at Jakarta and muffins on the flight to Abu Dhabi.
She said "staff really did their best under the circumstances," and that she and her family were given a "chauffer and sent to a five-star hotel to have dinner and rest" after they missed their connecting flight.
Another passenger, Dale Henderson, described how the the fire alarm went off in one of the middle toilets when what is believed to be a cigarette was thrown into a toilet waste bin.
He said a second fire started in the rear toilets and "this time it was a goer, flames and all".
He said the staff were quick to extinguish the flames.
He described how tense the situation was on the aircraft, and how passengers could not believe someone on board would put them in such danger.
Mr Henderson said flight personnel did a "fantastic job with the very bad situation", and that "without their expertise and professionalism, we wouldn't be here".
Norwegian professional golfer Caroline Martens, who was flying home from competing in the Australian Masters golf tournament, told Norwegian radio and television that a fire was started on board "directly while we were above the sea".
"After a few hours I noticed that it smelled like smoke ... but I thought everything was fine and just fell asleep," she said.
"About two hours after I woke up the fire alarm went off again."
After the plane landed in Jakarta, the golfer said all passengers and crew were searched by local police, but no culprit was found.
"Thus we were all sent on a plane again without knowing who had done it. It is just not nice to know that someone will set fire to the aircraft you will be travelling with," Martens said.
(Fairfax Media has translated Ms Martens' quotes from Norwegian.)
Etihad staff had helped re-book flights and organise hotel accommodation and transfers were needed.