Video of the American Airlines flight that was rocked by severe turbulence on Tuesday will make your heart skip a beat, and might even convince you to keep your seat belt fastened snug on your next plane trip.
American Airlines flight 280, which was on its way from South Korea to Dallas, Texas, was diverted to Tokyo on Tuesday after plane-jarring turbulence injured several people, some of whom were later hospitalized for injuries that were not life-threatening.
A storm over the west Pacific Ocean, which has been impacting Japan with rain and snow this week, was in the path of the flight as it crossed over the region. “The storm is powered by an absolutely rip-roaring jet stream, that was charging along at up to 235 mph at 30,000 feet at the time of the flight incident,” wrote Jason Samenow on Tuesday. “The winds, along with changes in the wind speed with altitude or shear, no doubt contributed to the turbulence that injured the passengers.”
Satellite view of the intense storm exploding over NE Japan. Expecting HUGE snow totals in W. Honshu and Hokkaido. pic.twitter.com/JmsEGbuH2F
— Andrew Freedman (@afreedma) December 16, 2014
Ron Baker, a commercial pilot, suggests that this story is actually a cautionary tale. “The majority of turbulence-related injuries could be avoided if passengers remained seated with their seat belts on at all times, including when the seat belt sign is off,” Baker said in an email. “Clear Air Turbulence is very hard to predict; you could be sailing along in smooth air one moment and then pow! you hit the turbulence, whether it be shear, or mountain wave, or even wake from another airplane. Those who aren’t buckled in (usually cabin crew members up and about) can be thrown around the cabin and sustain injuries.”
Baker says that turbulence isn’t necessarily going to bring a plane down, but that doesn’t mean it’s harm-free. “The plane can handle rough turbulence encounters just fine,” he said. “Unbuckled humans on the other hand…”
The West Pacific storm that caused the turbulence has been hammering Japan with strong winds, storm surge, and heavy snow this week. At one point on Tuesday, snowfall rates reached up to five inches per hour in Hokkaido Prefecture in northern Japan. Storm surge also climbed to around six feet in Hokkaido, where images on social media show empty grocery shelves.