By Richard Pollina
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Cuba to Fort Lauderdale, Florida erupted in panic and chaos after the jetliner was forced to make an emergency landing following a bird strike.
Shortly after taking off from Havana, smoke began filling the cabin of flight 3923 after birds reportedly struck one of the plane’s engines and nose.
The Boeing 737 had 147 passengers and six crew members onboard, and the pilot was able to return the flight to Havana safely. There were no reported injuries, Southwest Airlines told The Guardian.
In shocking cell phone footage recorded inside the cabin, some passengers desperately try to punch the ceilings over their seats to release their oxygen masks as the smoke overwhelms the worried travelers.
Screams, panic murmurings from adults, and the cries of a child are heard as passengers remain clueless about what is going on, with one traveler describing hearing a “boom” before the smoke began filling the cabin.
After the plane landed safely at Marti Airport, passengers were seen using the jet’s emergency slide to disembark the aircraft, with emergency personnel waiting nearby.
In another video, the crowd of passengers were seen walking disorientedly down the tarmac, with many coughing violently and still screaming from the chaos.
When asked about what led to the horrifying incident, one passenger recalled hearing “a big boom. Like an explosion.”
“To be honest, I thought it was my time to go,” Steven Rodriguez told NBC 6. “I was terrified.”
Several passengers on the Fort Lauderdale-bound flight said their air masks on the plane did not deploy when smoke filled the cabin.
“People started taking matters into their own hands and by force were punching the roof to eject the masks,” Rodriguez said. “And people had bloody knuckles and all because they were punching the roof. There were little kids on the plane and elderly women.”
Another passenger, Jorge Montesino, said he witnessed the plane’s engine on fire, which prompted him to immediately text his wife and kids to convey his love for them.
When the plane landed safely, though still disoriented, passengers clapped and cheered for the pilot.
“The female captain was incredible,” Montesino told the outlet. “With only one engine, the left engine, she was able to turn the plane around and land safely.”
“We commend the swift, professional actions of our pilots and flight attendants in responding to this event. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and have reached out to address their needs and offer support,” Southwest said in a statement about the incident.
Radio Rebelde, Cuba’s state-run media, reported that the plane “detected failures in one of its engines during the takeoff process,” citing the Cuban Aviation Corporation SA (CACSA).
CACSA said that an investigation is underway and the airport would continue its operations as usual, CNN reported.
Southwest Airlines said the company would “review the aircraft to assess the damage but do not have additional details to share at this time” when asked about the reported engine failure.