Horror at 14,000ft as plane error spotted by crew forces emergency landing

A plane took off from Stansted Airport with missing windows due to damage caused by high-powered lights during a filming event.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the Airbus A321 jet, previously used by the Government, returned to the Essex airport after a crew member discovered the issue early in the flight last month. The AAIB warned that the incident could have resulted in "more serious consequences". An inspection revealed two cabin windowpanes were missing and two others were out of position.

The aircraft is operated by Titan Airways and used by TCS World Travel, a US-based luxury holiday company. The incident happened a day after it was used for filming on the ground, when powerful lights were set up close to the plane to "give the illusion of a sunrise", the AAIB said in a preliminary report.

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They shone on the right side of the aircraft for around five-and-a-half hours, before being moved to the left side for four hours. The AAIB said the lights were designed to be deployed no closer than 10 metres from the object being illuminated, but they were between six metres and nine metres from the damaged windows. It did not disclose what the filming event was for.

The plane, heading for a positioning flight to Orlando, Florida, on October 4, had 11 crew and nine passengers onboard, all employees of the tour or aircraft operator. The passengers were seated together in the middle of the plane.

After take-off and once the seatbelt signs were switched off, a crew member noticed that the seal around one of the windows was "flapping", according to the AAIB. This was reported to the crew who decided to return to Stansted, where the plane landed safely. The plane reached an altitude of 14,500 feet during the flight.

The AAIB confirmed that "the cabin had remained pressurised normally". An examination found that the foam used to hold the windows in place had either melted due to high temperatures or was missing. The damaged windowpanes were "deformed and shrunk", the AAIB said.

In conclusion, the report stated: "Whereas in this case the damage became apparent at around FL100 (10,000 feet) and the flight was concluded uneventfully, a different level of damage by the same means might have resulted in more serious consequences, especially if window integrity was lost at higher differential pressure." Titan Airways and TCS World Travel have been asked for comment.

The Daily Star has contacted Stanstead Airport for further comment

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