A co-pilot who was smoking an e-cigarette is being investigated after his plane was forced to make an emergency descent when smoke entered the cabin.
Air China flight CA106, en route from Hong Kong to the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, descended from above 10,000 meters to below 4,000 meters n less than nine minutes Tuesday shortly after it reached cruising altitude, according to phone Global Positioning System data shared with CNN by a passenger on board.
Chinese airlines have a good safety record in general, but passengers have, on occasion, accused pilots of smoking during flights.
The unnamed co-pilot will be hit with "severe punishment in accordance with laws and regulations", said senior CAAC official Qiao Yin.
In desperation, the pilot reportedly hit the wrong switches, which dropped oxygen levels in the plane, triggering altitude warnings.
Oxygen masks were deployed during the descent on the flight from Hong Kong to the port city of Dalian in northwest China.
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"Smoke diffused into the passenger cabin and relevant air conditioning components were wrongly shut off, without notifying the captain, which resulted in insufficient oxygen", it added.
The crew returned to normal cruising altitude once it was discovered that the air conditioning was, in fact, turned off.
The CAAC said it was continuing the investigation and was analysing the aircraft's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
Instead, the wingman accidentally triggered a drop in oxygen levels, prompting an altitude warning that caused the almost fatal plunge - from 32,800 to 13,100 feet in less than nine minutes, Civil Aviation Administration of China officials told the station.
Air China also said in a previous Weibo post on Wednesday it had a "zero tolerance" approach towards wrongdoing by any crew.
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