Nfld. & Labrador

As smoke fills Porter plane, passengers told to breathe through seat covers

A passenger on a recent flight to St. John's is urging Transport Canada to explore installing oxygen masks on more planes after a Porter crew was forced to make an emergency landing.

Passenger questions why plane wasn't equipped with oxygen masks following emergency landing

A passenger plane made an emergency landing Monday afternoon after smoke began to fill the cabin. (Don McDonald/Submitted)

A passenger on a recent flight to St. John's is urging Transport Canada to explore installing oxygen masks on more planes after a Porter crew was forced to make an emergency landing earlier this week — though Porter Airlines says there's no need. 

Don McDonald of Paradise, N.L., was on a flight from Halifax Monday night when, about 30 minutes after takeoff, the cabin of the plane began to fill with smoke.
The airport's CEO, Helen MacInnis, confirmed the landing in a tweet, saying the pilot had reported smoke in the cockpit. (Don McDonald/Submitted)

"There was visible signs of smoke in the forward part of the cockpit, the fire alarm was going off and red lights were flashing in the deckhead of the plane," McDonald told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"It was pretty intense." 

Within 15 minutes, McDonald said, smoke had spread throughout the cabin. 

Another 10 or 15 minutes ... [the outcome] could have been totally different.- Don McDonald, passenger

McDonald was seated next to his wife and sister-in-law, and said passengers became nervous though no one seemed to panic.

"Our concern was that our niece and her baby were up in the forward part of the plane and we were unable to reach her because no one was allowed to be in the aisleways," he said.

"The baby's only 10 months old so we were thinking of what they might be going through."

The plane, which McDonald describes as "a turboprop," didn't contain oxygen masks. 

Instead, he said, flight attendants instructed passengers to cover their mouths with fabric taken from the back of their seats.

Emergency landing

McDonald said the pilot soon announced they'd be making an emergency landing at the JA Douglas McCurdy Airport in Sydney, N.S.

Upon landing, the plane was quickly evacuated.

"We weren't allowed to take anything with us. No purses, absolutely no luggage or anything like that," he said. 

"We just had to go as you were, just get out and go."

Sixty-eight people were on board the flight, including crew, when it landed in Sydney. Police, firefighters and ambulances were called to the airport. (Don McDonald/Submitted)

McDonald said he's very appreciative of how the Porter crew handled the situation, describing the pilot and flight attendants as "excellent."

Still he wants Transport Canada to look into installing oxygen masks in all planes, and believes passengers were fortunate that the pilot was able to land so quickly. 

"Another 10 or 15 minutes after this, had we been probably south of Sable Island and heading towards Newfoundland, [the outcome] could have been totally different."

Porter responds

In an email to CBC News, a representative from Porter Airlines said the plane, a Q400, operates below 25,000 feet and isn't required by Transport Canada or the Federal Aviation Administration to have drop-down oxygen. 

The email went on to say that oxygen masks "are not typically deployed for smoke events."

"In this situation, the pilot was able to land safely very soon after an emergency was declared," Porter said. 

As to the claim that flight crew told passengers to breathe through seat covers, Porter said that is standard practice as "the general instruction is to breathe through fabric of some type."

In this case, all passengers had easy access to a headrest cover. 

"Of course, appropriate clothing or similar fabric items can [also] be used," Porter said. 

With files from Rod Etheridge

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