Shocked passengers traveling from Arizona to Hawaii on an Hawaiian Airlines flight said they thought they were on a rollercoaster when their Airbus A330 hit severe turbulence on Sunday.
Kaylee Reyes was traveling with her mother, Tiffany Ann Reyes, who had just returned from the bathroom but had not yet had chance to refasten her seatbelt when she was suddenly flung into the air.
Explaining the panicked situation, she told Hawaii News Now: ‘The plane shook and then went into a sudden drop, kind of how you would if you were on a rollercoaster.
‘My mom wasn’t buckled and she flew up and hit the ceiling, then hit the floor.
‘There were several other people that hit their head. When we landed, paramedics came and had to wheel people out. Quite a few people had lacerations on their head and blood dripping down,’ she added.
Kaylee, left, and her mother Tiffany Ann Reyes, right, were on the Hawaiian Airlines plane that hit turbulence on Sunday
Several plastic ceiling panels broke away from the plane’s interior with some cracking on impact
Oxygen masks fell down from up above such was the severity of the turbulence
Flight 35 from Phoenix to Honolulu was about half an hour from landing but was still at its cruising altitude of 36,000ft with the seatbelt sign illuminated when it passed through what has been described as a ‘rare’ pocket of turbulence.
The drop was so sharp and so sudden that it sent 20 people to the emergency room leaving 11 hospitalized with a variety of injuries after many were flung to the ceiling as the floor of the plane appeared to fall away beneath them.
Among those hurt were three flight attendants, several children and a 14-month-old baby. Nine others suffered from minor injuries with several able to take the bus to hospital for further treatment.
Alongside Reyes, fellow passengers briefly feared for their lives as the aircraft suddenly dropped.
‘My life flashed before my eyes. I was scared,’ said Jazmin Bitanga, who was on the plane flying back home for the holidays.
Several plastic ceiling panels broke away from the plane’s interior with some cracking on impact. Bitanga says this crack occurred after her boyfriend’s water bottle smashed into it
Pieces of plastic could be seen on the floor after parts broke free when passengers smashed into them
Bitanga described two ‘intense’ drops in altitude, one of which was so hard that her boyfriend’s water bottle smashed into the ceiling cracking the panel.
‘I started to look around and people were holding onto lights that had fallen into their laps. There was a couple of people bleeding and just bracing themselves,’ said Bitanga to Hawaii News Now.
‘Just all around me there were people crying.’
At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Jon Snook, the Chief Operating Officer of Hawaiian Airlines confirmed that the seatbelt sign was on at the time of the encounter.
He admitted that it was the ‘worst cases of turbulence’ that he had ever encountered during his seven years with the airline.
‘Sometimes, these air pockets occur with no warning. It’s rare to have that level of extreme turbulence. It was a very extreme case of mid-air turbulence,’ he said.
At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Jon Snook, the Chief Operating Officer of Hawaiian Airlines confirmed that the seatbelt sign was on at the time noting how it was the ‘worst case of turbulence’ that he had ever encountered during his seven years with the airline
Several passengers could be seen wearing neck braces after being slammed into the ceiling of the aircraft in which they were traveling on Sunday morning
Another passenger could be seen being wheeled out of Honolulu airport wearing a neck brace
Snook said an investigation would also address precisely what the passengers and crew were doing at the time.
The airline was aware of the weather forecast and the unstable air and weather conditions, but had no warning the particular patch of air where the turbulence occurred ‘was in any way dangerous,’ Snook said.
The Airbus A330-200 began its descent immediately after the turbulence and crew declared an emergency due to the number of injuries on board, he said. Air traffic controllers gave the flight priority to land.
The aircraft will undergo a thorough inspection and maintenance, mostly to fix components in the cabin, Snook explained.
Snook said he could only speculate whether some passengers hit their heads, but that was likely based on the injuries and the damage to cabin paneling.
‘If you don’t have your seatbelt on, you stay where you are as the aircraft goes down and that’s how those injuries occur,’ Snook said.
The investigation will examine what other measures were taken, aside from turning on the fasten seatbelt sign, to ensure passengers were buckled in, he said.
One Twitter user posted video of some of the damage done to the roof of the cabin which appear to have been smashed into as people hit the ceiling as the plane suddenly dropped
Overhead panels appeared to have fallen from the ceiling of the aircraft with some cracked
Footage taken inside the cabin shows parts of the interior of plane were damaged with oxygen masks falling from the ceiling. Some passengers are said to have been lifted out of their seats during the turbulence
National Weather Service believes the turbulence may have been caused by the flight passing through a thunderstorm with a cold front bringing strong winds
Dozens of ambulances could be seen lining up outside the Honolulu airport arrivals area
Those hurt onboard included both passengers and three flight attendants.
Each sustained a variety of injuries, including serious head trauma, cuts and bruises when they crashed into the plane’s ceiling panels and overhead bins.
One person is believed to have broken their neck due to the impact with the ceiling of the aircraft.
Footage shot by cellphones from inside show oxygen masks dangling from above together with a number of plastic ceiling panels cracked having been smashed into by those onboard.
Emergency services, including firefighters, ambulance crews, and the state Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Team, were called to the airport to respond to the ‘mass casualty emergency’ that occurred around 11am.
‘Although initially we thought there were some patients with critical injuries, after further assessment it turns out they weren’t that severely injured, which was great,’ Honolulu EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland said.
During Sunday afternoon’s press conference, the airline’s COO, Snook, sounded relieved as he told how all those who were injured will survive
During Sunday afternoon’s press conference, the airline’s COO, Snook, sounded relieved as he told how all those who were injured will survive.
‘Our flying procedures are built to avoid these things at all times and this is obviously an isolated incident. This is very regrettable and associated with the weather pattern that is coming through the islands. We don’t know the specifics of whether it happened during the descent or just before, but the seatbelt sign was on.’
Snook who has worked in the airline industry for almost 30 years said it was the ‘worst case of turbulence’ in the time he had worked for Hawaiian Airlines but stressed the unexpected nature of the incident.
‘We fly through difficult weather all the time so it’s unfortunate that this happened today. We will work closely with the NTSB and help them with whatever they need to know. We will also examine the flight data recorder to determine exactly how much altitude was lost.’
One passenger took to social media following the ordeal, describing it as the ‘scariest flying experience’ they had ever endured.
‘Although initially we thought there were some patients with critical injuries, after further assessment it turns out they weren’t that severely injured, which was great,’ Honolulu EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland, pictured, said
Twitter user lynnxxy posted a video from inside the cabin following the sudden turbulence: ‘Scariest experience flying: very strong turbulence happened mid flight & some ppl with head injuries from hitting the ceiling. I’m safe just very shaken up.
‘Some ppl in the back with broken neck, bleeding on the head & face. I hope they all recover soon as this was a very traumatic event,’ they tweeted.
‘Made it home safe but will be going to the hospital later to check if I have an injury from whiplash or on my waist from the seatbelt when I floated up from my seat a bit.
‘Slight hip injury but I’ll be fine. I’m still very shaken up & have small anxiety attacks here & there but i’m ok,’ they added later.
Passengers on the flight, who ranged in age from 14 months to adults, sustained a variety of injuries, including serious head injuries, cuts, bruises, and even some were knocked unconscious (file photo)
One Twitter user described the encounter as their ‘scariest experience flying’ and ‘traumatic’
The airline also tweeted a statement explaining what had occurred.
‘HA35 from PHX to HNL encountered severe turbulence & landed safely in HNL at 10:50am today. Medical care was provided to several guests & crewmembers at the airport for minor injuries while some were swiftly transported to local hospitals for further care.
‘We are supporting all affected passengers & employees and are continuing to monitor the situation.’
The airline said the plane was carrying 278 passengers and 10 crewmembers and will now undergo a thorough inspect together with any necessary repairs before it is able to fly passengers again.
Hawaiian Airlines later tweeted a statement explaining what had occurred onboard
Thomas Vaughan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said there had been a weather advisory out for thunderstorms that included Oahu and areas that would have included the flight path at the time of the incident.
‘We believe the flight may have gone through a thunderstorm, which may have caused the severe turbulence,’ said NWS meteorologist Genki Kino. ‘During that time, there were scattered thunderstorms everywhere.’
The incident occurred while the plane was at cruising altitude at 36,000ft as a strong cold front began to affect the state, bringing the possibility of strong winds, heavy rains, and thunderstorms.
A Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Honolulu, Hawaii experienced severe turbulence approximately 30 minutes before landing on Sunday, resulting in the injury of at least 20 people, 11 of whom were seriously hurt (file photo)
In 2019, 37 passengers and flight crew members were injured when an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Sydney hit intense turbulence about two hours past Hawaii.
The Boeing 777-200 was diverted to Honolulu, where the injured received treatment.
Thirty people were taken to hospitals and nine had serious injuries.
Over the Atlantic, a 2017 American Airlines flight from Athens hit severe turbulence along the New York coastline.
Seven crew members and three passengers were injured.
Most people associate turbulence with heavy storms, but the most dangerous type is so-called clear-air turbulence.
The wind-shear phenomenon can occur in wispy cirrus clouds or even clear air near thunderstorms, as differences in temperature and pressure create powerful currents of fast-moving air.
Planes can sail into clear-air turbulence without warning.