Apollo 13, a U.S. lunar spacecraft that suffered a severe malfunction on its journey to the moon, safely returns to Earth.
* On April 11, the third manned lunar landing mission was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert, and Fred W. Haise. The mission was headed for a landing on the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon. However, two days into the mission, disaster struck 200,000 miles from Earth when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up in the spacecraft. Swigert reported to mission control on Earth, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” and it was discovered that the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light, and water had been disrupted. The landing mission was aborted, and the astronauts and controllers on Earth scrambled to come up with emergency procedures. The crippled spacecraft continued to the moon, circled it, and began a long, cold journey back to Earth.
* The astronauts and mission control were faced with enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the spacecraft and its air supply, as well as providing enough energy to the damaged fuel cells to allow successful reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Navigation was another problem, and Apollo 13’s course was repeatedly corrected with dramatic and untested maneuvers. On April 17, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.
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South African Airways flight 286 was on its way from Johannesburg when the flight was suddenly tossed about, throwing passengers out of their seats. Many flew up and hit the cabin ceiling, witnesses told the South China Morning Post, causing head and neck injuries. Brian Heuer, who was on the flight with his wife, said many passengers were asleep when the plane hit the turbulence as it passed over Singapore, adding: “‘Most of the injured hit their heads on the roof of the cabin.”
“A lot of the passengers were scared but generally speaking the crew had it under control and the landing was very good,” she said.
David Mkumbe, who was travelling alone on a business trip to Guangzhou, said the rough patch lasted for several minutes. “It was like the end of the world,” he said, adding that he had bumped and scratched his head.
Following the incident the aircraft’s pilots radioed ahead to Hong Kong requesting assistance upon landing.
The flight landed at Chek Lap Kok Airport at about 12.30pm, the Civil Aviation Department said, where a fleet of ambulances and fire crews were waiting.
“The flight hit severe turbulence outside Hong Kong airspace,” a Civil Aviation Department spokeswoman said, adding that they were notified of the incident at 11.10am.
A police spokesman said a total of 25 people had been hurt in the turbulence – two of them badly – with 20 needing hospital treatment. Both seriously injured passengers were men, one of whom suffered neck injuries. Those hurt were taken to North Lantau Hospital on Lantau, Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung and Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan.
Nine passengers and crew arrived at Princess Margaret Hospital at about 1.30pm. Three were brought in on stretchers in with head injuries, while the rest were able to walk in.
An Airport Authority spokeswoman said they had received a report from the airport’s control centre at 11am saying an incoming flight arriving from Johannesburg was in need of assistance. She said the operation of the airport had not been affected by the incident.
A fire department spokesman said 14 ambulances, four fire engines, a mobile casualty treatment centre and a mobile command unit were sent to the scene.
South African Airways currently operates daily passenger flights between Johannesburg and Hong Kong, using A340-600 aircraft.
– South China Morning Post Clifford Lo, Lo Wei, Johnny Tam, Victoria Duthie