A Ryanair plane made an emergency landing in central France after the cabin suddenly depressurized, French officials and the Irish carrier said Tuesday. Up to 26 people were hospitalized.
The Boeing 737 was carrying 141 British and 27 Spanish passengers plus six crew members from Bristol, England, to Gerona, Spain, before the urgent landing in Limoges, officials in the Haute-Vienne region said.
The "de-pressurization incident" caused the oxygen masks on board to deploy, a Ryanair statement said.
French officials said 26 people were hospitalized and suffered mostly from chest, nose and ear pain. Ryanair's statement said 16 people "complaining of ear ache" were taken to hospital.
The French officials said the plane lost 26,200 feet (8,000 meters) of altitude in five minutes before the landing, which the pilot requested.
"I think it's fair to say there was muffled consternation in the first few seconds," passenger Pen Hadow told Sky News. "People were clearly suffering with the shock of it, but on the whole ... people had a stiff upper lip about it and they were resigned to their fate. They were properly terrified.
"They thought they were going to meet their maker. And that's not an exaggeration," Hadow added.
RyanAir said it brought in a second flight to carry 147 remaining passengers on to Barcelona's airport, where it landed early Tuesday.
Spain's airport authority, AENA, said the second flight arrived in Gerona around 4:20 a.m. (0220 GMT). In the end, 125 passengers were on this plane, an AENA official said. She declined to comment on Spanish news reports that the rest refused to get on and said they would travel to Gerona by road.
Gerona's airport has recently been closing from midnight to 6 a.m. because of construction work, but in this case the airport opened to receive the Ryanair flight, the AENA official said.