The death of a 73-year-old passenger on a Singapore Airlines aircraft on Tuesday is the first reported fatality due to flight turbulence since 2011, data suggests.

According to the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network, between 2011 and 2024, there were 248 turbulence accidents (events with at least one serious injury involving commercial passenger or cargo flights) globally, with loss of one life.

Flight Safety Foundation is a US-based non-profit focused on research, education, advocacy, and communications in the field of aviation safety.

According to an AFP report, the Singapore Airlines aircraft experienced clear-air turbulence, which the Federal Aviation Administration defines as “sudden severe turbulence occurring in cloudless regions that causes violent buffeting of aircraft”. It is the turbulent movement of air masses in the absence of any visual clues, such as clouds, and is caused when masses of air moving at widely different speeds meet.

Global patterns

Since 2011, the US has reported the most number of air turbulence events (132), followed by Japan (27) and Spain (8). India has reported five incidents.

Ninety-six per cent of the air turbulence events were reported on scheduled passenger flights, while there were five and three reports from non-scheduled passenger and cargo flights. The maximum number of incidents (27) were reported in 2019, followed by 24 each in 2023 and 2011.

Among aircraft types, the Boeing 737-800 variant has been involved in 35 turbulence accidents, followed by Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 23 and 20 events, respectively.

Singapore Airlines incident

On Tuesday, a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft belonging to Singapore Airlines encountered sudden extreme turbulence over Myanmar on a flight from London. The 2008-built aircraft, powered by GE engines, was flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet, with 211 passengers and 18 crew members on board. The pilot diverted the aircraft to Bangkok following the incident.

One British citizen died and 71 others, including passengers and crew members, were injured in the mid-air mishap. Singapore Airlines said it is cooperating with authorities on the investigations. Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is probing the incident.

(With inputs from Parvathi Benu)