I blogged recently about the panic engendered in passengers by the standard, safest response to a depressurization incident at altitude. I'll say it again, though. The one non-standard thing that has happened is that the cabin pressure has dropped. Passengers will feel this through ears "popping" and or pain in their sinuses and ears. They probably will not notice any shortness of breath.
Then the airplane and crew reacts according to design. The oxygen masks fall from the ceiling. Everyone screams. Drop them on the ground, with the wheels on the pavement, people still scream. The homey airlines like Southwest and Westjet will even include "stop screaming" as one of the instructed steps for use of the oxygen masks.
The crew begins an emergency descent. They are getting you and your screaming lungs to a place where you can breath unhindered just as fast as human reflexes, the surrounding terrain, and the structure of the airplane allow. The rapid descent is a good thing.
I can sympathize with passengers not knowing this, and even if they do know, I can understand how unsettling a rapid descent can be. And the pain can be very severe ruptured eardrums and sinuses do heal, however, while the results of oxygen deprivation don't. It's a very easy choice.
But the media are not sealed in a rapidly descending airplane with a crew who are too busy to make a passenger announcement about what is happening. They have the opportunity to ask questions of informed people. But they prefer to just talk to the shaken passengers. So you get things like this.
The terminology "forced landing" usually refers to a landing made by an aircraft that cannot sustain flight, typically one without engine power. The descent to 10,000' was forced, but that's a whacky way to describe the event. The airline says that those taken to hospital were complaining of earache, and were all released. Judging from the line in the article, "Although French officials said the plane descended 26,200 feet (8,000 meters), Ryanair gave no details about a loss of altitude," the airline should take some blame for this ridiculous article because they didn't explain the emergency descent in their press release. The reporter is left believing that the airplane malfunctioned in some way so as to suddenly drop out of the sky, and has transmitted this ignorance to the readers.
Emergency landing is more accurate than forced landing, but really it was an emergency descent. I wonder if they even had equipment waiting. Once again the headline describes the response to the emergency, not the actual emergency itself. Is it because the actual emergency makes a boring headline or does FOX not get it either?
I'm not saying that the reason for the depressurization might not be a serious problem. I just want the media to realize that the rapid descent is a proper response to the problem, not the problem itself. If they did report that, then perhaps the next planeload of passengers to experience a deliberate emergency descent wouldn't think they were in a death plummet.