Every flier must have experienced turbulence in the skies sometime or the other, but they never imagined hitting air pockets could be fatal. However, a data dive into the history of turbulent flights since 2011 shows that the death of a 73-year-old passenger on a Singapore Airlines aircraft on Tuesday could be the only fatal incident.

According to the data sourced from the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network, between 2011 and 2024, 248 turbulent events (events with at least one serious injury involving commercial passenger or cargo flights) were reported on aeroplanes across the world. But only one resulted in death.

According to news reports, the 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 bodies of air moving at widely different speeds meet.

US reported most

The maximum occurrences have been reported in the US (132), followed by Japan (27) and Spain (8). Five incidents from India have been recorded from 2011 onwards.

Ninety-six per cent of these occurrences have been reported on scheduled passenger flights, with five and three events on non-scheduled passenger and cargo flights. Maximum incidents (27) have been reported in 2019 and 24 each in 2023 and 2011.

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

Atmospheric scientists believe that climate change will lead to increasing incidents of turbulence in the skies.

The SIA 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 and had 211 passengers and 18 crew members. The pilot diverted the aircraft to Bangkok following the incident.

A 73-year-old British citizen died onboard the aircraft, and 71 others, including passengers and crew members, were injured. Singapore Airlines has said it is cooperating with relevant authorities on the investigations. Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is probing the incident.