At least 36 people were injured during a Hawaiian Airlines flight when the commercial airliner encountered "severe turbulence."
On Sunday, Hawaiian Airlines Flight 35 was flying from Phoenix, Arizona, to Honolulu, Hawaii. At approximately 10:35 a.m., the airplane encountered extreme turbulence only 30 minutes before the plane was set to land in Honolulu.
Air passengers were thrown out of their seats without warning, according to flyer Kaylee Reyes. She said her mother had just sat down but hadn't had a chance to buckle her seatbelt. At the time of the high altitude incident, the "fasten seatbelt" alert was on.
“She flew up and hit the ceiling,” Reyes told Hawaii News Now.
Passenger Jazmin Bitanga said the Airbus 330 experienced two "intense" drops of altitude while the plane was flying at about 36,000 feet.
Bitanga said, "My life flashed before my eyes. I was scared."
One of the sudden descents was so strong that her boyfriend's water bottle flew into the ceiling and cracked it.
"I turned around and there was a couple of people bleeding and just bracing themselves," Bitanga recalled. "Just all around me, there were people crying."
Video of the Hawaiian Airlines plane shows damage to the overhead compartments, as many of the bins were deeply cracked.
The alarming air incident caused alarm on the ground – where firefighters, EMS, and the state's Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Team responded to a possible "mass casualty emergency" at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. A triage was set up at Gate 10A of the airport before the plane landed.
Hawaiian Airlines Flight 35 "landed safely" in Honolulu.
The Airbus A330 was at total capacity – carrying 278 passengers, two pilots, and eight flight attendants. Three flight attendants were among the injured.
Of the 36 injured passengers, 20 were rushed to two local hospitals for emergency care. There were 11 passengers in serious condition and nine who were in stable condition. Among the injured transported to the hospital was a 14-month-old child.
Injuries included a serious head injury, lacerations, bruising and loss of consciousness, according to the Honolulu EMS.
During a press conference about the air travel incident, Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Jim Ireland said one person was knocked unconscious because of the rough flight. Ireland added that approximately 10 passengers experienced nausea and vomiting.
Hawaiian Airlines said, "We are supporting all affected passengers & employees and are continuing to monitor the situation."
Jon Snook – Hawaiian Air executive vice president and chief operating officer – noted, "There was no warning of this particular patch of air."
Snook added, "Sometimes, these air pockets occur with no warning. It’s rare to have that level of extreme turbulence. It was a very extreme case of mid-air turbulence. We’re very thankful the extent of the injuries was not critical. It could have been worse."
National Weather Service meteorologist Genki Kino hypothesized, "We believe the flight may have gone through a thunderstorm, which may have caused the severe turbulence. During that time, there were scattered thunderstorms everywhere."
Hawaiian Airlines was forced to divert three other flights on Sunday due to a lack of visibility.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the incident.
36 injured after ‘rare’ pocket of severe turbulence hits Honolulu-bound plane shortly before land...www.youtube.com