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Co-pilot smoking e-cigarette behind cabin pressure fall on Air China plane

14 July 2018

Air China fired the entire flight deck crew and suggested CAAC revoke their pilot's licenses upon completing its investigation, the country's flag carrier said Friday night in a statement.

On Tuesday, an Air China Boeing 737 flying from Hong Kong to Dalian suddenly began an emergency descent of 25,000 feet in 10 minutes, with oxygen masks deployed to passengers.

But the co-pilot accidentally switched off air-conditioning instead, leading to a decrease in cabin oxygen levels.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a press conference in Beijing that the drama was triggered when the co-pilot sought to turn off a ventilation system to prevent his smoke spreading into the main cabin, the respected news site Caixin said.

The regulator's safety officer Qiao Yibin said the crew had to perform emergency measures, dropping oxygen masks until they could figure out the problem. That's the lingering anxiety of a passenger on a recent Air China flight that plummeted thousands of feet after oxygen levels dropped.

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A co-pilot attempted to vape in the cockpit shortly before the incident, Chinese authorities confirmed.

Air China Flight CA106 from Hong Kong to Dalian in China lost altitude a half an hour into the scheduled 5:55 pm trip.

The crew returned to normal cruising altitude once it was discovered that the air conditioning was, in fact, turned off.

Instead, the wingman accidentally triggered a drop in oxygen levels, prompting an altitude warning that caused the almost fatal plunge - from 32,800 to 13,100 feet in less than nine minutes, Civil Aviation Administration of China officials told the station.

"[We] didn't know what was going on, nor did the flight attendants, it seemed", said Hoby Sun, a passenger on flight CA106. Air China says it will "adopt a zero-tolerance attitude and seriously punish those found responsible", depending on the results of the CAAC's probe.

Co-pilot smoking e-cigarette behind cabin pressure fall on Air China plane