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Southwest flight attendant’s back fractured in ‘firm’ landing

The National Transportation Safety Board said the flight attendant thought the plane had crashed because of the force involved

A Southwest Airlines jet arrives in Chicago. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

A hard landing on a Southwest Airlines plane that was carrying 142 passengers and crew fractured a flight attendant’s vertebra last month at California’s John Wayne Airport, according to federal investigators.

“She indicated that the plane hit the ground with such force that she thought the plane had crashed,” the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report published Aug. 5. The flight attendant’s back and neck were in such pain she couldn’t move. Paramedics transported her to the hospital, the NTSB said.

The airport in Santa Ana, Calif., has a short runway, the NTSB said, and the pilots “were aiming for the touchdown zone” and seeking to land “with minimal floating. However, it ended up being a firm landing.”

Flight attendants say injuries from turbulent skies are generally of greater concern when walking around the cabin. The flight attendant in this case was harnessed in her jump seat toward the back of the plane ahead of the landing.

No one else was injured in the July 1 incident, investigators said, and Southwest said the plane continued to its next destination. The airline said it conducted an internal review but declined to answer questions about the cause of the rough landing.

Southwest said in a statement that safety is its top priority, adding, “We are concerned when any Employee is injured.”

The Dallas Morning News first reported the incident.

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The nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation said in a report this year that runway incidents made up a significant share of those it tracked around the world in 2021. Among them are “events such as tail strikes, amphibious aircraft landing on water with their landing gear extended, heavy or hard landings that resulted in substantial air-frame damage, and landing gear collapses or other landing gear issues,” according to the report, which cited 13 such incidents.

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