More than two dozen passengers and crew were injured Monday morning during a Houston-bound flight, after their jet hit severe turbulence over the Caribbean Sea.
Continental Flight 168 was headed from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Texas when it hit a pocket of rough air near Puerto Rico around 4:30 a.m.
Dozens of those on board were tossed around violently, including several flight attendants, who were serving food items in the aisles at the time.
The Boeing 767, which was carrying a total of 168 passengers and 11 crew members, immediately diverted to Miami and landed there about an hour later. Thirteen people were taken to local hospitals, four of whom were said to have suffered serious injuries. The remaining passengers were scheduled to continue on to Houston later today.
A Continental spokesman said that the “fasten seatbelt” light was on at the time of the incident. However, those who were injured were presumably not wearing them when the turbulence struck.
Aviation experts warn that passengers should always stay buckled up, even when the plane is flying smoothly, because turbulence can strike unexpectedly and cause serious next, spinal and limb injuries—or worse.
According to AirSafe.com, there have been six deaths worldwide caused by turbulence since 1980, and these all resulted from people not being buckled into their seats when the plane hit hazardous weather conditions.
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The FAA’s Web site says that turbulence is the “leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants” in the U.S., with about 60 people per year getting hurt. Since 1980 there have been 198 incidents of turbulence in the U.S which resulted in 266 serious injuries and hundreds of other events where people were injured less seriously.
National Transportation Safety Board statistics show that turbulence accounted for 22 percent of all U.S. airline accidents from 1996 to 2005, and was responsible for 49 percent of the serious-injury accidents.
Flight 168 departed from the same airport as the ill-fated Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic in June, killing all 228 on board. Though turbulence was suspected to have played a part in that crash, investigators warn against making any parallels.
The Air France flight may have been experiencing equipment and airspeed indicator failure in addition to the turbulence, and was over a different part of the ocean when it went down.
Despite the violent nature of turbulence incidents, planes are rarely—if ever—damaged by them. The FAA mandates that all commercial aircraft be built to withstand far more stress than they would ever encounter during rough turbulence, assuming they are traveling at an appropriate airspeed.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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