A recent report from the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch revealed a concerning incident involving a U.S.-bound flight that had to return to London due to missing and damaged windowpanes. The Airbus A321, which departed from London Stansted Airport and was en route to Orlando, Florida, experienced issues related to “high power lights” used during a filming event.
The bulletin, issued last Friday, highlighted that several cabin windows were damaged during the filming event, but the extent of the damage went unnoticed until the aircraft was already airborne. The report emphasized the potential for “more serious consequences” if the window integrity had been compromised under higher differential pressure.
Passengers on the flight noticed unusual conditions, such as a colder and noisier cabin, shortly after takeoff. It wasn’t until an aircrew member acknowledged the excessive noise, describing it as “loud enough to damage your hearing,” that the crew became aware of the issue. The crew member identified a damaged window on the left side of the plane, with the window seal flapping in the airflow and the windowpane appearing to have slipped down.
With the discovery made at an altitude of around 14,500 feet, the pilots took precautionary measures. They reduced the flight speed, halted the ascent, and initiated an investigation by the engineer and the third pilot. After confirming the damage, the crew opted to return to London Stansted Airport.
The aircraft landed safely, and despite the missing and damaged windowpanes, it remained “pressurized normally” during the 36-minute return flight. Upon parking, a thorough inspection revealed that two windowpanes were missing, a third was dislodged, and a fourth protruded from the left side of the plane.
Investigations revealed that the windowpanes had suffered “thermal damage” during a filming event the previous day. Maxibrute 12 lights, utilized to simulate a sunrise from inside the aircraft, had been positioned closer than recommended, shining from distances ranging between 6 to 9 meters instead of the recommended 10 meters.
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The incident raises concerns about safety protocols during such events, and investigations are ongoing to determine the full extent of the damage and any necessary preventive measures.