An Etihad Airways flight from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi was forced to make an emergency landing in Jakarta after two fires were sparked in the cabin toilets while the plane was mid-air.
A third incident also took place after the plane resumed its journey, causing the pilot to cancel all in-flight service so that air stewards could guard each of the cabin’s toilets.
Flight EY461 departed Melbourne about 11pm on Monday and eventually arrived in the UAE capital four hours behind schedule, without any injury to passengers or crew.
Etihad Airways confirmed the pilot diverted the Boeing 777-300ER to Jakarta, Indonesia, when smoke was detected in two of the toilets, “as a precautionary measure” to allow authorities to assist him to conduct a security assessment of the situation.
“The flight resumed after a security search of the aircraft, passengers and their carry-on luggage,” Etihad Airways said in a statement.
When the plane was in the air again, “strict controls” were implemented over passenger movement in the cabin and passenger access to the toilets was restricted.
A further toilet smoke alarm occurred two hours before arrival into Abu Dhabi, as the cabin crew were preparing the final meal service.
Crew immediately dealt with the smoke but the incident led the captain to position crew members at each of the toilets, resulting in cabin service being cancelled.
“The service was discontinued and the crew continued to monitor and secure toilet access for the remainder of the flight,” the statement says.
On arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport, passengers and crew were interviewed by local authorities.
“The events that occurred during the flight remain under investigation and Etihad Airways is assisting the authorities to complete this as soon as possible,” the airline said.
A passenger onboard the flight told Australia’s news.com.au the incidents were believed to be caused by a passenger.
“Flames were coming from the toilet and smoke filled the cabin,” the woman, who did not wish to be named, was quoted as saying.
“The arsonist first struck about three to four hours into the flight, [when] we were over the sea. Most passengers were asleep and fairly unaware.
“It was extinguished and there was an announcement reminding us all smoking was strictly prohibited. [Airline staff] assumed that’s what caused it.
“The [second] fire was in the rear toilet, not far from where I was sitting. I could see the flames and cabin filled with smoke.”
The incidents are being investigated.