What the budget airline described as a "technical issue" occurred about a half-hour after Flight QZ 535 left from Perth, Australia, on Sunday morning en route to the island of Bali. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling as the plane rapidly descended tens of thousands of feet in what is being investigated as a potential depressurization, USA Today reported.
But the flight crew made the situation even more terrifying, passengers said, according to news reports.
One passenger, Mark Bailey, described the crew as "hysterical."
"Hostesses started screaming: 'Emergency, emergency,'" Bailey told Australia's Seven News."There was no real panic before that, then everyone panicked."
Another passenger, Clare Askew, told reporters that the panic escalated "because of the behavior of staff who were screaming, looked tearful and shocked."
"Now, I get it," she added. "But we looked to them for reassurance and we didn't get any. We were more worried because of how panicked they were."
In a statement, the regional carrier - an affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia Group - apologized to passengers for "any inconvenience" caused.
"We commend our pilots for landing the aircraft safely and complying with standard operating procedure," Ling Liong Tien, head of safety for AirAsia Group, said in a statement. "We are fully committed to the safety of our guests and crew and we will continue to ensure that we adhere to the highest safety standards."
Indonesia AirAsia has drawn increased scrutiny since Singapore-bound Flight QZ 8501 crashed into the Java Sea in 2014, killing all 162 people on board.
In June, an AirAsia X flight from Perth turned back because of what was reported as a problem with one of its engines. Passengers described what felt like an explosion on board followed by "washing machine"-like shaking that lasted about 90 minutes.
After Sunday's midair incident, the Bali-bound plane was met by emergency service workers when it returned safely to Perth about an hour and a half after it had taken off. Passengers were transferred to other flights and given "all necessary assistance," the airline said.
Videos taken aboard the flight and broadcast on Nine Network's website show oxygen masks dangling inside the cabin.
"Fasten your seat belts!" a crew member shouts repeatedly.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was investigating the depressurization, according to reports.
The plane descended to about 10,000 feet from a height of more than 34,000 feet over the course of about 10 minutes, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightAware.
"I actually picked up my phone and sent a text message to my family, just hoping that they would get it," a passenger who gave her name as Leah told Nine Network. "We were all pretty much saying goodbye to each other. It was really upsetting."
Another passenger, Norman Pearce, said the crew told the passengers to assume crash positions - "and that was it."
"Nothing for about five minutes," he told Seven News. "And then the oxygen fell down."
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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