HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into Sunday’s [Dec. 18] severe turbulence experienced by passengers on Hawaiian Airlines flight 35 about 30 minutes from landing. Honolulu Emergency Medical Services said 36 people were treated for injuries.
Video from passengers showed the moments the airline flight landed in Honolulu shortly after experiencing severe turbulence. People’s belongings were on the aisle floors, some overhead compartments opened and some were damaged; the shock was still notable on people’s faces.
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Jacie Hayata Ano was traveling home for the holidays when she started to feel the shaking on the plane. she said it quickly intensified.
Hayata Ano said, “We felt, like, one big shake. And then, that’s, like, pretty much when we floated off our seats.”
The NTSB said it is putting a team of investigators together, including experts in meteorology, survival factors and aircraft operations.
On Sunday, Dec. 18, the Hawaiian Airlines Chief Operating Officer said the A330 aircraft likely encountered an “air pocket” or a sudden change in wind velocity and direction, causing a sudden drop in altitude.
EMS Honolulu and American Medical Response ambulances responded to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Twenty people were transported to the hospital, 11 of them in serious condition.
Hawaiian Airlines confirmed three of its crew members were also taken to the hospital for further treatment.
Retired commercial pilot Peter Forman said the A330 aircraft is a newer plane with weather radars to help detect storms ahead, but pilots could still encounter turbulence.
“If you lose a lot of headwind, all of a sudden, that airplane is going to want to lower its nose and regain the airspeed,” Forman said. “Even with all of those tools, you can still get severe turbulence that you really don’t see coming. And again, it comes down to the passengers. If the seatbelt sign is on, you really do have to respect that sign.”
A report recently published by the NTSB said wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of injury on board for all aircraft passengers during turbulence-related accidents.
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Hawaiian Airlines said it continues to support those affected by Sunday’s incident but cannot comment further due to the active investigation.
The NTSB said to expect a preliminary report in the next two to three weeks.