Ryanair review urged after child's fall from airstairs

Air accident investigators today recommended budget airline Ryanair review procedures after a three-year-old child fell on to the tarmac while boarding a plane.

The child, Olga, escaped with only minor injuries after falling through the gap between the handrail and the level platform at the top of the Boeing 737's boarding steps.

On a Ryanair flight leaving Stansted airport, she climbed the stairs unassisted as her mother, journalist Sasha Slater, was carrying her 18-month-old son, Joe, with one hand and luggage with the other.

When Olga reached the top of the stairs, "she turned towards her mother, leaned backwards and fell through the gap between the extendable handrail and the top of the airstairs," an Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said today.

After receiving initial medical assistance, Olga was airlifted to hospital and was released 24 hours later.

The AAIB recommended that Ryanair review its current passenger boarding and disembarkation procedures "so that assistance is made available to passengers accompanied by children and those with special needs".

Today's report into the incident, on July 17 2009, said: "The gap between the extendable handrail and the upper platform of the Boeing 737 airstairs represents a hazard to small children boarding or disembarking the aircraft."

The AAIB said there were four previously-reported similar incidents involving small children and this led to American aviation authorities issuing a special airworthiness information bulletin; the amendment of the Boeing 737 flight attendant manual and the release of two special safety bulletins.

The AAIB said it was making the safety recommendation to Boeing about the airstairs design as the special bulletins "do not provide physical protection against a child falling through the gap".

Also, the AAIB said modification proposed by Ryanair after last summer's incident provided "only a limited physical protection against falling".

In May this year, Ms Slater wrote about the incident in the London Evening Standard.

She described how Olga "suddenly screamed and slid off the side of the platform", landing on her side on the tarmac.

Ms Slater went on: "I thrust Joe into the arms of an air hostess and ran down to reach my daughter who was lying, screaming, beneath the plane. I was forcibly prevented from holding her by one of the many doctors on the flight in case she'd broken her back.

"The next few hours passed in a blur of paramedics, sedatives, stretchers, helicopters and ambulances, brain scans and X-rays. But a day later she was running around in hospital, the only visible signs of injury some scuffing on her toes and knees, a sore neck, and an egg on her forehead."

A Ryanair spokesman said today: "Ryanair has reviewed its procedures as recommended by the AAIB report into this incident, which took place over a year ago.

"New procedures, including new high-visibility barriers and specific announcements to passengers travelling with young children on both boarding and disembarkation, have also been introduced in order to eliminate any recurrence of these extremely rare events in the context of over one million Ryanair flights over the past two years."