At least 24 people were sent to the hospital after JetBlue Flight 429 experienced heavy turbulence on a flight from Boston to Sacramento. The flight made an emergency landing in Rapid City, South Dakota, after passing through two thunderstorms. Among the injured were two crewmembers and 22 passengers.
The flight left Boston Logan International Airport at 5:45 p.m. ET on August 11 and made its emergency landing at about 8:30 p.m. ET. Passengers who were not wearing their seatbelts were at highest risk of hitting their heads due to the drop in altitude. After hitting the turbulence, crew members asked for medical assistance from passengers.
“I was working on my laptop when the plane suddenly dropped,” Dr. Alan H. Lee wrote to the Boston Globe. “I don’t know how far it dropped, but all I recall is my laptop almost hit the ceiling, several other passengers hit their heads, and a bunch of the overhead bins popped open.”
The airline reportedly sent care team members to help those injured, and sent a replacement flight to take those passengers who were able to carry on to Sacramento. Blankets and water were provided in South Dakota. None of the injuries to passengers or crew were identified as life-threatening.
Passenger Rhonda Renee told CNN the incident was like a bad dream.
“People were flying out of their seat belts and hitting their head on the ceiling; it was very scary,” Renee said.
According to reports, JetBlue apologized to passengers and offered them either a service credit for the round trip fare or $200, whichever was greater. Airlines generally encourage passengers to wear seatbelts whenever they are seated in case of sudden, violent turbulence.
Prominent Aviation Attorney Ilyas Akbari weighed in about the JetBlue Flight 429 incident. “Air travelers can reasonably expect to contend with some turbulence when flying. What they shouldn’t have to contend with is severe turbulence caused by thunderstorms that were visible from both radar and the cockpit. Did JetBlue receive warnings from federal agencies about these thunderstorms and choose to push through anyway? We’ll have to wait and see how the investigation shakes out.”
— TRAVEL Esquire ✈️ (@TravelEsquire) August 12, 2016
In July, Southwest Airlines Flight 1265 was diverted to Kansas City after flying through severe turbulence on its route from Chicago to Austin. Although no injuries were reported, flight crew determined an emergency landing was necessary to conduct a post-turbulence check of the plane and ensure passengers were okay.
Robin Grulke, a passenger on the flight, told KXAN news the incident was terrifying but once they were out of the turbulence and back in the air, the mood relaxed.
According to NASA, turbulence is the greatest cause of airline injuries, costing airlines at least $100 million per year. NASA’s Aviation Safety Program is working on eliminating severe turbulence as an aviation hazard. The FAA estimates that around 60 people in the US are injured by turbulence every year. From 1980 through 2008, US airlines experienced 234 turbulence accidents, which resulted in 298 serious injuries and three fatalities.