Reportedly, an Air China flight from Hong Kong to Dalian was forced to deploy oxygen masks in the passenger cabin and make a rapid descent of 21,000 feet when the airliner’s co-pilot attempted to hide his vaping.
The co-pilot was vaping in the cockpit of the airliner and opted to hide his exhaled vapor by turning off the circulation fan between the cockpit and the passenger cabin. However, he accidentally flipped the wrong switch and turned off the oxygen to the passenger cabin entirely, triggering the aircraft to sense an emergency and trigger an alert. The aircraft then plunged 21,000 feet in less than ten minutes after oxygen masks were deployed in the passenger cabin.
Per the BBC:
“If a plane loses cabin pressure, the pilot has to bring the aircraft to a lower altitude to keep crew and passengers safe. Once they saw that the air conditioning had been turned off, they reactivated it and brought the flight back to its normal altitude.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to know just how to respond to stories like this; it really seems to represent a comedy of errors, something one might have seen from a disaster-comedy film from the 1970s. It seems unlikely, for example, that any of the passengers would have even detected second-hand vapor in the passenger cabin, which rendered the co-pilot’s attempts to hide his vaping moot from the beginning. But trying to conceal what almost certainly didn’t require any concealment, he himself made the incident a much bigger and more frightening episode than it needed to have been.
The impetus for the co-pilot’s behavior perhaps t was a 2006 law which forbids pilots and airline personnel from smoking on flights. In 2015, the interviewer of passengers on a Hong Kong to Beijing flight was told that they could smell cigarette smoke issuing from the aircraft’s cockpit. Chinese authorities are still investigating this incident.