Sabotage probe after Cathay oxygen flasks emptied

Top News | Stella Wong 28 Aug 2019

Thirteen portable oxygen flasks on two Cathay Pacific flights to and from Toronto a fortnight ago had been discharged in 24 hours, and the airline is investigating whether it was sabotage.

The flasks ensure cabin crew can move about when there is a sudden drop in air pressure and planes are equipped with 22 bottles.

The incident comes amid intense scrutiny of Hong Kong's flag carrier after its CEO resigned and several pilots and flight attendants were terminated following an order by Chinese civil aviation authorities to stop its staff from supporting anti-extradition protests.

Cathay said yesterday it discovered that oxygen in the flasks had been discharged or partly depleted on Hong Kong-bound CX829 flight on August 17 and CX826 on August 18 at Toronto airport.

The discovery was made while both planes were on the ground prior to departure back to Hong Kong. Five flasks were affected on the August 17 flight and eight on the following day's flight.

"We can confirm that the depleted oxygen bottles were immediately recharged and checked for serviceability by engineers prior to their flights," Cathay said yesterday. "At no point was the safety of our crew and passengers compromised."

Cabin crew and passengers have in-seat aircraft oxygen available at all times, it added.

Cathay said it was taking the issue seriously but did not reply if the incident was reported to police.

A passenger told The Standard that his flight CX829 had been set to depart at 1.45am (Toronto time) on August 18. At about 1.30am, the passenger said they were informed their flight would be delayed as it encountered an issue with oxygen bottles.

The airline also asked if there were passengers who could give up their seats voluntarily and offered them compensation such as free accommodation and upgrades. The flight finally took off, apparently with all passengers, more than one hour later.

A Cathay flight attendant told The Standard that oxygen bottles will sometimes be offered to passengers when they feel unwell as the flasks are not limited for cabin crew use during an emergency.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a former Cathay pilot, said if a problem occurs in the aircraft's pressure system, the oxygen masks above passengers' heads will drop down. "At the same time, cabin crew will also have oxygen bottles to carry with them so they can move around and assist passengers," he said.

Tam believed the incidents were unrelated to passengers on the flights as the number of affected bottles was not small.

"After the flights land and all passengers and cabin crew leave the aircraft, the planes will stay [in Toronto] for a few hours. Will there be a chance that other people such as engineers, cleaners and ground staff have entered the planes?" he asked.

He said the incident involved aviation safety and hoped the authorities will conduct a full investigation.

"If someone can mess with oxygen bottles, can they mess with other equipment in the future?"

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Trade Unions has changed the location of its assembly today from Cathay City after police objected to that location.

But last night they issued a letter of no objection to the assembly at Edinburgh Place in Central.

The group expressed disappointment in the appeal result. It said the decision limited the freedom of assembly and was biased to the employer.

The protest aims to urge Cathay to revoke their decisions of firing employees and called the company to "stop terrorizing staffs."

The group earlier postponed the protest opposing the termination of at least seven Cathay employees over their social media postings supporting the fugitive bill on Monday to today.

Cathay made the move after the Civil Aviation Administration of China ordered it to ban all employees who have supported or joined "illegal protests," "violent actions" and "overly radical activities" from operating flights to the mainland or flying through Chinese airspace.

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