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Dangerous “clear sky” turbulence. What are they and when do they occur?

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During Tuesday's flight from London to Singapore, several dozen people were injured and one died as a result of severe turbulence. Turbulence extremely rarely causes situations like this. Experts estimate that the so-called “clear sky” turbulence may have been to blame in this case. What are they, when do they appear and why are they so dangerous?

On Tuesday, during a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER flight from London to Singapore there were strong turbulences, as a result of which 30 people were injured and one person died, probably of a heart attack. According to FlightRadar24 data, turbulence occurred when the plane was over the territory Burma. The plane made an emergency landing in Bangkok Thailand.

SEE ALSO: “Suddenly I went up and hit the ceiling.” What passengers of the “scary flight” say

What is turbulence and what are its causes?

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Turbulence is the increased movement of air masses around the aircraft. During the flight, the plane may be in areas of air moving at different speeds, temperatures and in different directions, which causes slight vibrations, i.e. turbulence – explained on the Polish LOT website.

The most common causes of turbulence are convection currents, i.e. the rising of thinner air heated by the Sun. These may also be weather changes, during which the movement of air masses and atmospheric fronts leads to changes in air speed, temperatures and density, resulting in turbulence. Another cause of turbulence may be the terrain, because when the air encounters an obstacle, it is forced to change direction – we read on the Polish carrier's website.

SEE ALSO: Death on the plane, number of injured increased. Undetectable “clear sky” turbulence to blame?

What are clear sky turbulences? When do they appear?

One type of turbulence is the so-called “clear air turbulence – CAT”. Some experts say this type of turbulence may have occurred on Tuesday's flight from London to Singapore, although the airline has not yet confirmed what exactly caused the problems.

“Clear sky” turbulence occurs when the sky is clear and there is no indication that vibrations may occur. They appear without warning and are difficult to predict, therefore they are considered particularly dangerous. LOT explains that they are being created at higher altitudesclose to jet streams and are related to air turbulence and differences in wind speed. They occur when the wind suddenly changes direction and speed in a given place.

CATs are essentially undetectable by on-board radars. Retired pilot Hugh Dibley said, quoted by Reuters, that pilots usually hope to receive warnings about such turbulence from other planes in the area. At the same time he emphasized that all modern machines are designed to cope with forces much greater than turbulence.

– Such situations do indeed occur, but from the point of view of the safety of the aircraft itself, it is not a threat in any way. The planes are adapted, tested and prepared to withstand much more serious turbulence than what even occurred in this accident – emphasized pilot Krzysztof Zdanowski on TVN24.

Where does turbulence occur most often?

Turbulence can occur almost anywhere and at any altitude. However, some areas are more susceptible to them. Turbulence most often occurs over the oceans – Indian, Pacific and Atlantic and over mountain ranges – Andes, Himalayas and Alps. One of the analyzes from 2023, quoted by CNN, shows that they occur most often on the route between Santiago in Chile and Santa Cruz in Boliviaand also between Almaty and Kazakhstan and the capital KyrgyzstanBishkek. The highest among European routes in this ranking, fifth place connection between Milan and Geneva.

Before each flight, pilots check route details and weather forecasts to plan the flight to avoid turbulence as much as possible. However, aviation experts consider turbulence to be completely normal and an inherent part of flying. That is why – as they emphasize – it is worth wearing seat belts throughout the flightin case of unexpected turbulence and listen to all crew instructions before travel.

Turbulence that results in the death of a passenger is extremely rare. According to data from the British group Cirium Ascend, the last such accident occurred in 1997 on board a United Airlines Boeing 747 during a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu.

SEE ALSO: Boeing could face criminal prosecution in the US

LOT, Reuters, CNN, FlightRadar24

Main photo source: Shutterstock



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