Man who died during turbulence on Singapore Airlines flight was ‘remarkable’ person

A British man who died when a flight to Singapore was hit by severe turbulence was “the most wonderful human being that you could ever know”, a friend has said.

Geoff Kitchen (73) suffered a suspected heart attack on the Singapore Airlines flight from London Heathrow, and seven other people were seriously hurt.

Dozens more suffered minor injuries.

Lizzie Atkins, a friend of Mr Kitchen, said he and his wife had been planning to go on a cruise in Indonesia before travelling to Australia, describing the pair as “adventurous travellers”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I just can’t believe that I’m having to do this. He was the most wonderful human being that you could ever know, really one of the top ones – he was stable and reliable and you always knew you were in safe hands with Geoff. He was just a remarkable man, really.

“He had a really dry sense of humour and he had a twinkle in his eye. Every time you saw him you just knew he was going to make a funny joke.”

She added that he was a “staunch supporter” of Thornbury Musical Theatre Group in Thornbury, north of Bristol in England, where the pair met around two decades ago.

Mr Kitchen had been its secretary, treasurer and chairman, she said, adding: “He would do anything for you, anything for the group – he was just amazing.”

Thornbury Musical Theatre Group described Mr Kitchen as “a gentleman with the utmost honesty and integrity”.

His neighbour Valeria Murray (89) told the PA news agency that his death has shocked residents in the area.

She said: “I knew him more as a neighbour, walking up and down the road and so on grinning at each other and saying hello. He seemed a very, very nice sort of chap. It was, I think, just a shock for everybody living locally.

“I hadn’t realised it was going to be a special holiday, for several weeks apparently, we’re all having to take a deep breath and take it all in.

“He’s a grandfather, his son cleans all our windows and we have seen both of them – Geoff and Linda – with the grandchildren walking up and down the road.

“Somebody you know who has been around is suddenly gone.

“I’ve just been sort of thinking about it all the time, really in the back of my mind, you know, gosh, somebody that you have known – not very well – but known, and then just suddenly, I don’t really know how to describe it, you just sort of feel numb in a way.

“It’s going to take a little while.”

Singapore Airlines said the flight encountered “sudden extreme turbulence” at 37,000ft above Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Basin about 10 hours after departure, with the pilot declaring a medical emergency and diverting the plane to Bangkok.

The carrier’s chief executive, Goh Choon Phong, said he offered his “deepest condolences” to Mr Kitchen’s family.

“We are deeply saddened by this incident,” he said.

“We are very sorry for the traumatic experience that everyone on board SQ321 went through.

“We are fully co-operating with the relevant authorities on the investigations.”

He said some 79 passengers and six crew members are receiving medical treatment in Bangkok and a relief flight carrying the remaining passengers and crew members arrived in Singapore early on Wednesday.

A UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesman said officials are supporting the family of the passenger and are in contact with local authorities.

One passenger on board Flight SQ321 to Singapore said the plane suffered a “dramatic drop”, meaning people not wearing a seatbelt were “launched immediately into the ceiling”.

Another passenger, Jerry, who was travelling to his son’s wedding, told the BBC the day was “the worst of my life”.

Speaking with a bandage covering part of his head, he said: “Things were going very smoothly at first. I’d just been to the loo, came back, sat down, bit of turbulence, and suddenly the plane plunged.

“I don’t know how far, but it was a long way. (It was) so sudden, there was no warning at all, and I ended up hitting my head on the ceiling, my wife did.

“Some poor people walking around ended up doing somersaults. It was absolutely terrible, and then suddenly it stopped and it was calm again, and the staff did their best to tend to the injured people.

“There were a lot of them and some of the staff are injured themselves, so they did a sterling job.”

Images posted on social media showed damage to the ceiling of the cabin, and food, cutlery and other debris strewn on the floor after the incident.

The 16-year-old Boeing 777 left Heathrow at 10.17pm on Monday and was diverted to Bangkok, landing at 3.45pm local time (9.45am BST) on Tuesday.

There were 211 passengers and 18 crew on board – including 47 passengers from the UK and four Irish nationals.

Flightradar24 said its tracking data showed the plane encountering turbulence at approximately 8.49am BST while flying over Myanmar.

The flight tracking service said data sent from the aircraft showed a “rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event”, adding that there were “some severe” thunderstorms in the area at the time.

Aviation consultant John Strickland told the PA news agency that “turbulence happens” but, even with millions of flights each year, incidents are “limited” and “fatalities are rare”.

He said: “Exposure is greater in different parts of the world.

“The South Atlantic, Africa and the Bay of Bengal are all places that spring to mind where there’s a greater incidence.

“There are discussions about whether climate change is influencing an increase in occurrences.”

Mr Strickland said airlines use a variety of methods to minimise the chances of a flight being affected by turbulence, such as weather forecasts, radar and reports from aircraft ahead.

A spokesman for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: “Our deepest condolences go out to all those who have been affected.

“Accidents of this nature are extremely rare and aviation remains one of the safest forms of travel.”


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