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36 injured during turbulence on Hawaiian Airlines flight

11 passengers and crew were seriously hurt

Injured passengers and crew were taken to the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu after turbulence on a Hawaiian Airlines flight on Sunday. (Audrey Mcavoy/AP)
3 min

Dozens of people were injured Sunday, some seriously, when a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu hit “severe turbulence” about a half-hour from landing.

According to a statement from Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, paramedics and emergency medical technicians treated 36 people, 20 of whom were taken to the hospital. Several people who were treated at the scene experienced nausea or vomiting but did not have injuries that required hospitalization, Jim Ireland, director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, said during a news conference.

“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,” Hawaiian Airlines tweeted.

Passengers suffered injuries including cuts to the head, bruises and loss of consciousness, the emergency medical authorities said. Eleven people were in serious condition and nine others were stable at the hospital. Officials said 13 people were taken to hospitals by ambulance and the rest by city bus, accompanied by paramedics and other medical staff.

The flight was full, with 278 passengers, eight flight attendants and two pilots, Hawaiian Airlines Chief Operating Officer Jon Snook said. The plane, an Airbus A330-200, was flying at 36,000 feet when it hit the turbulence. He said he did not yet know how much altitude the plane lost and could only speculate at this point about how people were injured.

“Injuries occur because the aircraft goes down and if you don’t have your seat belt on, you stay where you are as the aircraft goes down,” he said during a news conference Sunday afternoon in Hawaii. Three of the people who were taken to the hospital were flight attendants, he said.

Kaylee Reyes, who was a passenger on the flight, told Hawaii News Now that her mother had just sat down and hadn’t yet buckled her seat belt when turbulence hit.

“She flew up and hit the ceiling,” Reyes said.

Another passenger, Jazmin Bitanga, told the news outlet that the plane experienced two “intense” drops. During one, she said, her boyfriend’s metal water bottle flew into the ceiling, cracking it. A photo circulating on social media shows what appears to be a gash and cracks in the plane’s ceiling.

“Just all around me there were people crying,” Bitanga told Hawaii News Now.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the Flight 35 was heading from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport when it reported the turbulence at about 10:35 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time.

The agency said it was investigating.

According to the Associated Press, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said a weather advisory had been issued for thunderstorms Sunday morning in areas that would have included the plane’s flight path.

Snook said during the news conference that such an extreme case of turbulence was “relatively uncommon.”

“We haven’t experienced an incident of this nature in recent history for sure,” he said. He said there wasn’t any warning of the particular patch of air that caused the incident.

He said the seat belt sign was on at the time the plane hit the patch of air, but it wasn’t clear how many people were not buckled.

Snook said there was not a struggle in the cockpit to control the plane.

“These aircraft are designed to deal with this sort of level of turbulence and are designed to recover from it without issue,” he said.

This story has been updated.