Severe Turbulence on Hawaiian Airlines Flight Sends 20 People to the Hospital

36 passengers received medical treatment, and 11 were seriously injured.

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Evening photo of Honolulu, Hawaii
Photo: Tom Pennington / Staff (Getty Images)

If you’re one of those people who like to ignore flight attendants’ requests to wear your seatbelt on a flight, maybe this story will be enough to change your mind. NPR reports that on Sunday, a flight going from Phoenix, Arizona to Honolulu, Hawaii experienced “severe turbulence” that ended in three dozen passengers needing medical attention.

According to Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, the turbulence was so bad, that 36 passengers needed treatment, 20 were sent to the hospital, and 11 were in serious condition. Those numbers include three flight attendants who were also injured.

“We are also very happy and we feel fortunate that there were not any deaths or other critical injuries. And we’re also very hopeful that all will recover and make a full recovery,” Ireland told NPR. “We’re just thankful no one died,” is definitely not what you want to hear in regard to an incident on an airplane, but from the sound of it, the turbulence was bad enough that a fatal injury was absolutely a possibility.

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Passenger Kaylee Reyes said her mother had recently returned to her seat but didn’t have time to buckle her seatbelt before the turbulence hit, sending her out of her seat. “She flew up and hit the ceiling,” said Reyes.

Jon Snook, Hawaiian Airlines’ COO, called the incident “isolated and unusual” and said the airline hadn’t seen “an incident of this nature in recent history.” He also said that while the seatbelt sign was on, some passengers weren’t wearing their seatbelts, leading to injuries. And while he didn’t have information on the number of head injuries, Snook said they were likely. “If you don’t have your seatbelt on, you stay where you are as the aircraft goes down and that’s how those injuries occur,” he said.

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At the time the incident occurred, a thunderstorm advisory had been issued for Oahu and areas along the plane’s flight path. But while the airline knew about the weather forecast, Snook said it had not been told that specific area “was in any way dangerous.”

After the turbulence hit, the plane reportedly began descending immediately, and the crew declared an emergency. Thankfully, they were close enough to land at the time and not still over the middle of the ocean. The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the event, and the plane will need to be inspected and repaired before it flies again, as the cabin was damaged during the turbulence.

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Hopefully, everyone recovers from their injuries quickly. But also, seatbelts, y’all. They’re important.