Breakfast cooking smells woke me from the early-morning fog of a long-haul flight over the Indian Ocean; an endless stream of jet noise and chatter. Once before, I’d woken in fright as the massive engines’ explosive power triggered a nightmare image of a burglar kicking down the door. But that was just the make-believe calm before the real-life storm. Suddenly the aircraft plunged violently as it lost contact with sustaining airflow. Passengers and possessions were tossed as if weightless between floor and ceiling. A neighbour lost a cup of water which hit the roof and its contents spread out horizontally before tumbling vertically like rain when the giant Airbus reconnected with rough air. The wide-bodied structure seemed to flex in the shock wave as the sickening, juddering crunch on impact rumbled like a death knock, drawing cries of alarm, fear, even terror. My bizarre, dead-pan thought might have been an epitaph: “Please, not this flight. I’m already heading to a funeral.” We’d barely taken stock when a second wave struck, once more bouncing cabin and contents around like a cocktail mixer; shaken and stirred. Throughout the flight there had been warnings of turbulence — this time “severe” — but in the aftermath, the sense of shock and awe was palpable as, across the darkened deck, pools of light picked out cabin crew urgently attending casualties. My young neighbour nursed a blood nose from contact with the seat in front; stoically soaking up the claret with Kleenex as family seated behind offered solace in Arabic. Somewhere to our rear, crew nursed a passenger in pain, counselling the possibility of a bone fracture and giving first aid. An urgent announcement asked for a doctor — a first for me in 50 years of flying, much of it on military airframes including zero-gravity and high-G manoeuvres. A doctor eventually came, but this was a big jet, with hundreds of passengers across two crowded decks, and the onus on crew was enormous. They answered admirably. A man nearby cried desperately “Help!” and attendants rushed to provide water, later oxygen. For the rest of the flight the same steward administered the green gas bottle; a thoughtful touch amid trauma. A captain’s announcement assured us that even though there were injuries none were serious, and because the aircraft was in good shape we would continue to Dubai. Strapped in, I saw only a fraction of the unfolding scene, but as nerves settled I made a late loo break and met a man with a heavily bandaged head and a gash to his face; cheerful, but clearly a case for ongoing care. The crew also suffered. One nearby kept working with an arm in a sling, and all maintained composure as we readied to land; their calm communicating with the rest of the cabin. Passengers were to remain seated until medical crew had evacuated the casualties and we did; the usual bustle towards the exits a non-starter. As the reports came in about damage done, a telling statistic emerged. Of 14 casualties, seven were in the premium seating on the top deck; five of those were crew, two passengers. Wear a seatbelt if you can. David Cusworth is a sub-editor at The West Australian.