An AirAsia pilot asked passengers to pray — twice — when a plane bound for Malaysia from Perth, Australia, began violently rattling. Ultimately, the jet had to return to Australia. The pilot was criticized afterward for asking the passengers to pray. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)
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One AirAsia pilot sought divine assistance over the weekend when his plane began intensely rattling midflight with more than 300 passengers on board.
Ultimately, the twin-aisle Airbus A330, which was flying to Malaysia from Perth, Australia, was forced to turn back Sunday due to what the airline described as a “technical issue,” CNN reported.
“We were asleep and heard a loud bang around the 1-hour-and-15-minute mark,” passenger Damien Stevens said of the flight. “It shook for the whole ride back, close on two hours.”
It is not yet clear what caused the problem with the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines. Any imbalance within the engines could cause the intense vibrations throughout the cabin of the plane. Stevens said the entire ordeal was “very scary.”
When the violent shaking was clearly not going away, the pilot instructed the plane’s 359 passengers to begin praying. He asked them twice, according to Stevens. The travelers were also told to hold “the brace position” for roughly two minutes during the landing.
When the pilot finally landed the plane, he exited the cockpit and shook hands with every passenger. Stevens said passengers “erupted with applause once we landed.”
Some passengers posted video of the harrowing experience on social media. One traveler, identified as Maesaya on Instagram, wrote, “I thought I might die.”
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandez praised the flight crew, adding that he is “super proud of Captain Ibrahim.”
“AirAsia don’t [sic] make engines and all airlines have engine failures. But when it does happen, it takes great pilots and great leadership in times of crisis. I’m beaming with pride,” Fernandez wrote on Facebook. “From videos you can see all guests calm, and from the many emails and [messages] I got, the captain’s announcements kept everyone calm.”
But it was not all accolades for the AirAsia pilot. He was also criticized by some for his decision to request prayers from the plane’s passengers.
Shane Loney, vice president of the Australian and International Pilots’ Association, said Monday that the pilot “could’ve worded things differently” because “we don’t usually invite our passengers to pray.”
Pilot Ron Nielson also wrote in an editorial for Fortune that pilots should “never ask passengers to pray.”
“I do not know exactly why the pilot thought it necessary to ask for divine assistance,” Nielson wrote. “But after 30 years of fielding questions and concerns from thousands of people who have a fear of flying, I assume that saying this would only confirm to any scared passengers that they were in serious trouble.”
Malaysian politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim also criticized the AirAsia pilot in a series of tweets, saying it was irresponsible for him to ask passengers to pray while the plane was malfunctioning.
And Zaid Ibrahim defended his comments Wednesday, saying, “I always pray and not only during emergencies. When the engine of the plane was shaking or facing problems, I believe the passengers would have been praying themselves already.
“There is no need for the pilot to add to the passengers’ fears,” he explained.
The flight landed safely in Australia at 10 a.m. Sunday, three hours after it departed.
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