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‘Pandemonium’ reported on turbulent US flight

February 18, 2014

BILLINGS, Montana (AP) — Violent turbulence triggered “pandemonium” aboard a United Airlines flight in the U.S. and sent passengers and crew flying through the cabin, according to company representatives and passengers. Federal safety officials said Tuesday they were looking into the incident that left three crew members and two passengers injured..

Drinks had just been served and passengers were moving around the cabin on Flight 1676 from Denver to Montana on Monday when the plane started to lurch, said passenger Ejay Old Bull.

“It was a solid 20 seconds of pandemonium,” said Old Bull, a 26-year-old graduate student. “What really hurt people and what really got everyone panicked was when the plane tipped to the right and dropped for about four or five seconds. That’s when people started praying.”

Old Bull said he watched his seatmate crash headfirst into the overhead luggage bin and briefly lose consciousness, and a crew member was bouncing around in the galley just behind his seat.

Passenger Joe Frank, 20, said the plane dropped violently, followed by screams. Frank said he was thrown to the ceiling, banging his head.

He said a baby in a seat one row back had been thrown out of its parent’s arms and landed safely on an empty seat across the aisle.

“As we levelled off, you heard a father cry out, ‘Where’s my baby?’ That’s when I turned around and heard a guy say, ‘It’s right here,’” Frank said.

The Boeing 737-300 has been taken out of service while the airline reviews what happened, United spokeswoman Christen David said.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said the agency was gathering details on the severity of injuries and whether there was any damage to the aircraft. That information will determine if a full-scale investigation is warranted, said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams.

During the last decade, about 33 people annually were injured during turbulence on airplanes, with crew members suffering most of the injuries, according to information from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Turbulence is caused by air movements created by weather events such as thunderstorms, cold or warm fronts and air moving around mountains, according to the FAA. It can occur unexpectedly and when the sky appears clear.

Authorities say staying buckled up is one of the easiest ways to prevent injuries.

Update hourly