An elderly woman was taken away by police yesterday after she was spotted throwing coins into the engine of an aircraft at Pudong International Airport. She said it was to "wish a safe flight."
The China Southern Airlines flight to Guangzhou was delayed for more than five hours as the engine was taken apart and examined thoroughly.
The 80-year-old, surnamed Qiu, was about to board the Airbus 320 around noon when she suddenly threw a handful of coins toward the engine.
A passenger following behind her alerted the crew.
Flight CZ380 had been due to take off at 12:40pm and arrive in Guangzhou at 3:05pm.
Qiu was taking the flight with her husband, daughter and son-in-law. They had rented a wheelchair at Terminal 2 and were escorted to the aircraft by airport staff who failed to notice her bizarre behavior.
Once alerted, crew members called airport police and about 150 passengers already onboard were asked to return to the terminal building.
Mechanics dismantled the engine and the fairing was opened, according to photos taken by passengers.
Mechanics finished their inspection around 4:50pm, finding one coin inside the engine and another eight around it. They had a total value of 1.70 yuan (25 US cents), the airline said.
Once it was confirmed that the aircraft was safe to fly, it took off at 6:16pm, the carrier said, after a delay of five hours and 36 minutes.
The aircraft landed safely at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport at 8:11pm.
According to a preliminary investigation, Qiu is said to have no criminal record or to be suffering from a mental illness. Police said that a neighbor told them Qiu was a Buddhist.
The aircraft's captain said: "The engine could tremble, lose speed and even stop in the air if a coin was sucked into the core part of the engine." The coins would collide with the blades at high speed, he added.
A civil aviation expert surnamed Zhou said the engine would quite likely have been destroyed if the coin entered the engine in the air.
"The cost of the single engine accounts for one-fourth of the total cost of the aircraft," he added.
China Southern said later in a statement that passengers must abide by civil aviation laws and stipulations and any behavior that might endanger flying safety was prohibited.
Police said that the incident was still under investigation.
It is not unknown for the odd behavior of some passengers to endanger safety on domestic flights.
On June 12, a passenger was detained for 12 days for releasing an escape ladder on a Xiamen Airlines flight while passengers were boarding the B757 aircraft at Beijing Capital International Airport.
On October 28 last year, a passenger was detained for 13 days after releasing an escape ladder on an aircraft at the Guangzhou Baiyun airport while passengers were getting off. The airline was not named.
Both carriers had to change aircraft for subsequent flights.