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Turbulence hits jet, injuring 7; A330 safety concern renewed

A Qantas Airways plane hit turbulence and suddenly lost altitude over Malaysia, throwing terrified passengers around the cabin and leaving seven people injured, the airline said yesterday, renewing concerns about safety of the Airbus A330 - the same aircraft model that fell into the Atlantic Ocean three weeks ago, killing all aboard.

The Qantas flight with 219 passengers and crew aboard was flying from Hong Kong to the Australian west coast city of Perth overnight when it struck "severe turbulence" over Malaysian Borneo, the airline said in a statement.

Passengers later described the panic and confusion in the darkened cabin as passengers not wearing seat belts were hurled from their seats.

"It appeared like we'd just dropped out of a 30-story building," uninjured passenger Keith Huxtable said. "It was dark ... people screamed."

Passenger Michelle Knight, also not hurt, said the crew told her the plane had plunged 30 meters.

Six passengers and a crew member were treated on board for minor injuries, Qantas corporate affairs manager David Epstein said.

The captain reported minor damage inside the cabin, Epstein told Fairfax Radio.

Australian government safety officials were investigating the incident.

"There is no reason to link the incident to other recent in-flight incidents involving A330 aircraft," the Qantas statement said.

Three weeks ago, an Air France A330 jet fell into the Atlantic Ocean off the northeastern coast of Brazil after running into thunderstorms, killing all 228 people aboard. Investigations into that accident have focused on a flurry of automated messages sent by the plane minutes before it lost contact.

One of the messages suggests external speed sensors had iced over, destabilizing the plane's control systems.

In October, a computer malfunction on a another Qantas A330 flying from Singapore to Perth caused the jet to nose-dive twice, leaving 12 passengers and crew seriously injured.


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