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Violent Turbulence Injures Flight Attendants

17 Jul, 2023 Liz Carey

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Asheville, NC (WorkersCompensation.com) – Add turbulence to the list of dangers flight attendants face in the air.

Twice in the past two weeks severe turbulence has injured flight crew members and passengers in the skies over the past two weeks.

On Wednesday, two flight attendants and two passengers on an Allegiant flight were injured when the plane hit a patch of turbulence. The flight was traveling from Asheville, N.C. to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport when the plane dropped 5,000 feet in less than two minutes because of the turbulence.

"More than halfway through descending and all of sudden we heard a small turbulence,” a passenger, Lisa Spriggs, told NBC Miami. “The stewardess fell to the ground. Then we hit major turbulence, which was petrifying ,and she was literally like 'the Matrix.' You can watch her go up in the air and land straight down. She broke her ankle.”

Witnesses told NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa that several people who weren’t wearing seatbelts were thrown up from their seats and hit the ceiling of the plane, causing the overhead bins to open and break.

The FAA said it is investigating the incident and had not released the conditions of the injured people.

Last week, in Honolulu, three flight attendants on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Sydney, Australia were injured when the plane hit turbulence.

The plane was carrying 163 passengers and 12 crew members on June 29 when it hit “unexpected severe turbulence” about five hours into its flight, the airline said.

“The plane just dropped,” Sultan Baskonyali, a passenger on the flight told ABC News. “We weren’t prepared.”

Witnesses said one passenger went up in the air and hit his head on the ceiling then dropping back down.

Officials said three flight attendants, and one passenger, were referred to hospitals for evaluation and later released. Another three injured passengers were assessed by medics at the airport.

“Our immediate priority is to continue to care for our passengers and crew affected by this turbulence event, and we thank Sydney airport first responders for their swift assistance,” the airline said in a statement.

In May, three flight attendants on an Avelo Airlines flight from New Haven, Connecticut to Fort Myers, Florida were injured after a turbulence incident. An airline spokesman told NBC Connecticut the flight attendants suffered minor injuries.

Airline officials said the incident was caused by the wake of another larger aircraft cruising at 36,000 feet. The airplane hit the turbulence ad dropped 400 feet in altitude, the spokesperson said. The flight was diverted to Orlando International Airport where the flight attendants were evaluated and released by medical personnel.

And in March, an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to Hawaii hit a patch of turbulence so severe passengers reported it felt as if the plane would shake itself apart. Changes in altitude made some passengers sick causing flight attendants to hand out more air sickness bags. As they were doing that, one flight attendant was hit by an ice bucket flying through the air.

"It got really, really violent," Ingrid Weisse, one of the passengers, told NPR.

They are the latest incidents of injuries due to turbulence since an incident last year where 25 people on board a Hawaiian Airlines flight experienced severe turbulence, injuring two crew members and four passengers seriously. Officials said the plane in that incident also suffered minor damage.

According to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board, the captain of the Dec. 18 flight told investigators that conditions were smooth with clear skies when a cloud shot up in front of the plane causing the turbulence.

At the time of the incident, Hawaiian Airlines Chief Operating Officer Jon Snook said that kind of turbulence is unusual, and that the airline had not experienced anything like that in recent history.

Researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom have found that the duration of severe turbulence on flights over the North Atlantic has increased by more than 55 percent over the past 40 years.

Researcher Isabel Smith linked the increase to climate change.

"The jet stream, which is this fast-flowing band, is getting more chaotic and stronger with global tropospheric warming," Smith told United Press International. "As you're flying, [clear-air turbulence] can come out of nowhere, hit the aircraft quite suddenly, and you don't have time to put the seatbelt sign on.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, turbulence causes the most common types of accidents on board airplanes. Between 2009 and 2022, the NTSB recorded 163 “serious injuries,” from major fractures, serious burns, internal bleeding or any injury requiring more than two days of hospitalization, that resulted from turbulence. Of those injuries, 80 percent came from flight crews.

The Association of Flight Attendants -CWA, the union that represents flight attendants, said the reason is flight attendants aren’t buckled up with their seat belts.

Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, says the reason cabin crews suffer most of the injuries is pretty straightforward. "We're checking on other people having their seat belts on. We're in the middle of a service,” Sara Nelson, the AFA-CWA president told NPR. “We're preparing for the next service in the galley with a 300-pound cart. So, it's often that we're not buckled in when these clear-turbulence events happen.”

Nelson said changing procedures to ensure that cabin crew members remain buckled in during parts of the flight could help curtail some of the injuries.
"There's been recommendations from the NTSB to have flight attendants sitting down earlier on descent and staying [seated] longer on ascent, which is oftentimes where we encounter these issues as we're flying through the various altitudes," she says.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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