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Passenger Flight Loses Two Windows After Takeoff, No One Notices Until 10,000 Feet

An airliner missing windows, plus a view from inside
An airliner missing windows, plus a view from inside

A British luxury flight was forced to turn around and land after missing windows were discovered mid-flight. The failure has been tracked to a photoshoot the day prior that damaged the windows.

Outlined in a report from Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the incident took place on October 4. An Airbus A321 chartered by luxury travel service and operated by Titan Airways (per The Independent) departed London Stansted Airport for Orlando International Airport at 11:51 a.m., with a crew of 11 and nine passengers. Following takeoff, the passengers reported an unusually cold, noisy cabin, which the crew's loadmaster later described as "loud enough to damage your hearing."

View of a damaged window from after the plane landed
View of a damaged window from after the plane landed
View from inside one of the damaged windows while airborne
View from inside one of the damaged windows while airborne
Image showing three damaged windows missing outer panes on the affected airliner
Image showing three damaged windows missing outer panes on the affected airliner

The plane's altitude exceeded 10,000 feet before a crew member noticed a loose window seal "flapping in the airflow." No problems with cabin pressurization were reported. The flight reached an altitude of 14,503 feet before returning to the airport after 36 minutes airborne.

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Inspection revealed that two of the windows behind the over-wing emergency exit were missing, with one additional window being loose. According to Travel and Leisure, airliner portholes consist of three layers: an outer pane that holds pressure, a vented middle pane that circulates air to prevent condensation, and an inner "scratch" pane to prevent passengers from damaging either of the above. Two of the windows had lost those two outer layers, owing to damage inadvertently caused during a photoshoot the day before.

Photoshoot that damaged the windows
Photoshoot that damaged the windows
Labeled damage to the window assembly
Labeled damage to the window assembly
Warped window pane
Warped window pane

During said photoshoot, the airline had reportedly used intense 12,000-watt stage lighting to simulate a sunrise. For up to five and a half hours, three of the windows were exposed to this intense light, and may have reached temperatures approaching 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This warped the acrylic windowpanes and melted their foam insulation, allowing them to fall out in flight and damage the left-side horizontal stabilizer as they passed.

The AAIB said consequences could have been worse if the windows were lost at a higher altitude. There, the greater pressure differential between cabin and atmosphere could have caused explosive depressurization, potentially injuring or killing the crew or passengers. British and French aviation authorities are investigating the incident to prevent future recurrences.

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