The plane reached its cruising altitude of 32,000 feet some 30 minutes into the flight, and then the trouble began, says the captain of a Sichuan Airlines flight en route from China to Tibet on Monday morning. Reuters quotes Liu Chuanjian as explaining that a booming sound was heard and the right cockpit windshield was suddenly gone—along with, nearly, the co-pilot. "Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window," Liu said. The co-pilot was wearing a seatbelt and was able to re-enter the Airbus A319, but the drama wasn't yet over. The cockpit's temperature and air pressure had plummeted, and the flight, which departed from Chongqing and was headed for Lhasa, needed to make an emergency landing in Chengdu.
But "everything in the cockpit was floating in the air. Most of the equipment malfunctioned ... and I couldn't hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard I could not read the gauges," says Liu. But he managed to land the plane, to much praise. The co-pilot suffered facial scratches and a sprained wrist, and a cabin crew member suffered a minor waist injury. As for the 119 passengers, they were unharmed but describe a few seconds of free-fall as breakfast was being served, with the plane dropping to 24,000 feet, reports the BBC. The Wall Street Journal reports an Airbus team will help investigate the incident. Reuters notes that in 1990 a pilot on a British Airways flight was also pulled partially out of the cockpit window but survived. (Read more emergency landing stories.)