Just moments after the flight attendants ran to their seats, the JetBlue Airways airplane flying from Puerto Rico to Orlando Monday night took a steep plunge toward the earth.
The plane shook and shook, tossing passengers around in their seats and rattling loose food from the cabin refrigerators.
“It’s like the tower of terror,” passenger Veronica Hernandez Torres told WESH-TV, referencing the ride at Walt Disney World themed after the television show The Twilight Zone, that drops riders hundreds of feet while they’re buckled inside an elevator. “The same feeling that when the towers go down, everybody goes up.”
Hernandez Torres suffered a bruise on her leg and her young daughter, 5-year-old Amaia, was in shock, WESH-TV reported. When the turbulence subsided, some passengers were handed ice packs, Hernandez Torres said. She told the TV station she saw at least two people whack their heads on the overhead compartment. ABC News reported that the plane dropped 100 feet in altitude.
“It was super scary,” Hernandez Torres said.
Once the plane landed at Orlando International Airport just before 9 p.m., eight passengers were taken to a Florida hospital with injuries caused by the turbulence, a spokesperson with the airport told WESH-TV.
“JetBlue flight 1134 experienced turbulence while en route from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Orlando. The flight arrived in Orlando at 8:52 p.m. ET. Medical personnel met the aircraft upon arrival to assist customers, and eight customers were transported to a local hospital for further evaluation,” Doug McGraw, Director of Corporate Communications for JetBlue Airways, told the TV station.
In photos Hernandez Torres shared with multiple news outlets, bags of pretzels, water bottles and soda cans can be seen strewn about the cabin. At one point, she captured photos of the oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling and deploying.
It felt, she said, like the plane dropped into an “empty hole.”
This is the second incident of extreme turbulence in the last week that sent people aboard U.S. flights to the hospital.
On an Allegiant Air flight from Punta Cuna, Dominican Republic, destined for Pittsburgh on May 5, a large, plane-shaking jolt threw passengers from their seats. One passenger told WTAE: “I have people’s blood on my feet.”
The flight was diverted to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where emergency crews met the plane and took seven people to the hospital to be treated for injuries, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that each year, 58 people in the U.S. are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts. The FAA also reports that between 1980 and 2008, three people were killed in the 234 turbulence accidents logged by U.S. carriers.
At least two of the people killed were not wearing their seatbelts.
Plane-rattling turbulence can be experienced when a flight enters areas affected by severe storms, but another explanation is something called “clear air turbulence.”
The FAA defines it like this: “Clear air turbulence is air movement created by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air around mountains, cold or warm weather fronts or thunderstorms. It can be unexpected and can happen when the sky appears to be clear.”
Although it might seem like incidents of turbulence and related injuries have increased in recent years, with passengers more willing and able to share in-flight videos and photos, data from the FAA suggests they’ve actually been falling steadily since 2009.
That year, 107 people were injured on U.S. flights due to turbulence. Last year, 21 people were injured.