An Air Canada plane on a flight from Vancouver to Sydney, Australia, after travelling from Toronto, encountered sudden and severe turbulence Thursday, leaving nearly three dozen people with minor injuries, the airline said.
Flight AC33 was diverted to Honolulu’s airport around 6:46 a.m. local time, where medical staff were on standby to examine the injured.
Initially 25 people were reported hurt, but after medical staff examined those who were on board, Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said it appears 35 people sustained minor injuries.
The Boeing 777-200 was carrying 269 passengers and 15 crew and was about two hours past Hawaii when it hit “severe clear air” turbulence, Fitzpatrick said.
Passenger Jess Smith spoke to local TV station KHON as she exited the plane. She said she was jolted awake.
“We hit turbulence and we all hit the roof, and everything fell down … people went flying,” she said.
Fais Asad, who was awake on the plane, said he was “quite terrified” after the aircraft suddenly dropped.
“It was like a second, but it was enough to see everybody jump. Some people that weren’t strapped in, you saw them rise in the air and hit their heads on the roof and everything, so it was quite intense,” he told KHON.
The turbulence happened at 10,973 metres (36,000 feet) about 966 kilometres southwest of Honolulu, said U.S. Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Ian Gregor.
Flight attendants were handing out snacks when it began with mild turbulence, said Alex Macdonald, a passenger from Brisbane, Australia.
“The whole experience was probably 10 to 15 seconds, a bit of mild shaking, nothing out of the ordinary, and then just a drop out of nowhere,” she told CBC News.
‘Eerie stillness’ in aftermath
“I saw the people ahead of me hitting the overhead baggage compartments and then just slamming back into their seats,” she said.
“[It] was just a bunch of noise, people extremely shocked, and then a very eerie stillness throughout the cabin as people tried to grasp what had happened,” said Macdonald, who was wearing a seatbelt and was not hurt.
She said a couple of flight attendants were among those who hit the ceiling of the cabin.
Passenger Luke Wheeldon told Honolulu news station KTIV about half the passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts. “There was no warning and then half of them, their head hit the roof all at once,” he said. “And I went, ‘Oh, this is a bad day.”‘
Emergency responders met the plane at the gate at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. The Honolulu Emergency Services Department wasn’t able to immediately provide details about the nature of the injuries.
Air Canada said it was arranging hotels in Honolulu for those who were on aboard until a new flight to Australia can be arranged.