36 people hurt, 11 seriously, as turbulence rocks a flight to Hawaii
By Eduardo Medina
Three dozen people were hurt — 11 of them seriously — when a flight from Phoenix to Honolulu was rocked by severe turbulence Sunday, authorities said.
The Hawaiian Airlines flight, which carried 238 passengers and 10 crew members, landed at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu about 11 a.m. local time, according to the airline. Medical personnel provided care to passengers and crew members who were injured, according to Honolulu Emergency Medical Services.
Shayne Enright, a spokesperson for the services, said 36 people, including a 14-month old and three crew members, were injured. Of those, 11 people, including one teenager, were hospitalized with serious injuries. Nine others were hospitalized in stable condition, she added. The condition of the infant was not immediately available.
“Injuries included a serious head injury, lacerations, bruising and loss of consciousness,” Enright said. None of the victims appeared to have life-threatening injuries, she said.
Hawaiian Airlines said on Twitter that it was supporting all affected passengers and employees, and that it had provided medical care to those who were injured in the flight.
At a news conference Sunday, the chief operating officer for Hawaiian Airlines, Jon Snook, said the seat belt sign was on when flight HA35 experienced turbulence about 30 minutes outside of Honolulu.
Turbulence, which is air movement that often occurs unexpectedly and cannot be seen, can be created by various conditions, including cold or warm weather fronts, thunderstorms and jet streams.
About 58 people in the United States are injured each year by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. From 1980 to 2008, the last year in which the administration has posted data on its site, U.S. air carriers had 234 turbulence accidents that resulted in 298 serious injuries and three deaths.
In the turbulence instance Sunday, unstable air and weather conditions near the Hawaiian islands helped create an unstable patch of air that caught the flight by surprise, Snook said.
“There was no warning of this particular patch of air,” he said.
The seat belt sign was on at the time, but some of those who were injured did not have their seat belts on, Snook said. The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating, he said.
“We’re going to have to look back at the investigation to understand aside from the seat belt sign being on, what other measures were taken,” he added.
Thomas Vaughan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said there had been a weather advisory posted for thunderstorms at the time of the turbulence.
“Possibly, they flew into a thunderstorm,” he said.
Kaylee Reyes, a passenger on flight HA35, told Hawaii News Now that the turbulence had come out of nowhere, causing her mother, who had her seat belt unbuckled, to be tossed up and hit the ceiling of the aircraft cabin.
In recent years, other passengers have dealt with similarly frightening turbulence that resulted in injuries onboard. In 2019, 30 people were treated for injuries at Kennedy International Airport in New York when a flight hit severe turbulence. In 2015, 21 passengers aboard an Air Canada flight were injured when sudden and intense turbulence threw passengers out of their seats.
Jim Ireland, the director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, said at the news conference that it was “fortunate that there were not any deaths or other critical injuries.”
“It’s the holidays; everybody’s trying to come here for vacation or come back home,” he said. “It’s generally a time when people are happy. And so this is obviously something that they didn’t plan for in their journey here.”