Passengers onboard an American Airlines flight from Greece to Philadelphia were shocked to find their otherwise routine travel turning from commonplace to terrifying in only moments, bringing to life every flier’s worst nightmare.
American Airlines flight 759 had departed from the Athens International Airport at 11:37 a.m. (European Eastern Summer Time) on August 5, 2017, and was only about half an hour out from the Philadelphia International Airport when the aircraft experienced severe turbulence violent enough to send 10 people to the hospital upon landing.
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The 299 people aboard the American Airlines plane (287 passengers and 12 crew members) were 30 minutes away from their arrival at Philadelphia International Airport when the incident began, according to Ian Smith, a Philadelphia man who was on the flight. The seat belt sign was on and flight attendants had worked their way to the last few rows of the plane when an announcement came on again asking passengers to fasten their seat belts.
“Then they said for the flight attendants to get to their seats, and they didn’t even have time,” Smith said in an interview with 6ABC. “[The plane] started shaking, then it took a big drop. Babies screaming, people in front of us hitting the ceiling.”
Alex Ehmke was on his way home from a family vacation. He echoed Smith’s telling of the sudden turbulence.
“I was looking forward and I just saw everything just move upwards about four feet,” Ehmke recalled to NBC News. “So, I saw drinks, you know, flying up against walls and up on the ceiling,” Ehmke added that he saw a male passenger behind him hit the ceiling and then be flung onto another passenger.
Jessica Huseman, a reporter for ProPublica, was also flying on American Airlines flight 759. She took to Twitter to share images and commentary on the incident.
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The sudden, frightening shaking and dropping was over almost as fast as it began, but the chaos inside the cabin would linger on, with newly-served beverages sprayed across ceilings and debris scattered across aisles. Three passengers and seven crew members sustained injuries during the incident, which some passengers said lasted anywhere from five to 10 minutes.
Ervin Fang, an ophthalmologist from Los Angeles, was on the plane but was not injured during the turbulence. He and two other doctors who were also passengers assessed the severity of the injuries and worked to treat them as best they could before landing, including creating a makeshift sling for one injured person.
“The two flight attendants, one had a dislocated shoulder, the other one had fallen, hit her head and her shoulder. Those were the main ones,” Fang said when speaking with 6ABC. “I think the others were head injuries, either they had fallen or got knocked around, hit their head on the cabin or ceiling.”
The plane, which was scheduled to land in Philadelphia at 3:45 p.m., was on the tarmac at 3:12 p.m. following the incident. Paramedics were waiting to respond to victims and a total of 10 people on board were taken to the hospital.
American Airlines Addressed Aviation Incident as “Severe Turbulence”
American Airlines released a statement on the incident the same day it occurred, saying:
American Airlines flight 759 from Athens, Greece to Philadelphia International Airport briefly encountered severe turbulence shortly before landing safely in Philadelphia. The seat belt sign was on at the time. Three passengers and seven crew members were transported to a local hospital for evaluation. We are taking care of our passengers and our crew members at this time and want to thank our team members for keeping our passengers safe.
Ehmke said that the pilot took to the intercom to address the incident after it occurred as the plane made its way to Philadelphia International.
“He said another plane had flown through previously and reported only moderate turbulence,” Ehmke told the WashingtonPost. “So they didn’t try to go around it or predict it was as bad as it was.” Ehmke also said that a different member of the flight staff got on the intercom to offer instruction as to disembarking the plane and that the woman sounded shaken and uncertain.
FAA to Investigate Cause of Inflight Incident
In the wake of the incident onboard flight 759, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed that it had received reports of severe turbulence from the flight crew. The FAA also issued this statement on the matter:
“American Airlines 759, an Airbus A333 aircraft, landed safely at Philadelphia International Airport at about 3:10 pm today after the crew reported severe turbulence while flying over the North Atlantic Ocean. The flight departed from Athens, Greece for Philadelphia. Contact the airport and American Airlines for information about passenger injuries. The FAA will investigate.”
No further details were given on what the investigation would entail. New technology has been implemented on commercial airplanes to prevent turbulence incidents like this one, but the FAA says there were still 44 injuries from turbulence in 2016.
Severe turbulence has been linked to air passenger injuries in the past. Although such injuries are not frequent, they can lead to whiplash or concussions. Earlier in 2017, passengers aboard Aeroflot flight Su-270 experienced serious turbulence, leading to loss of consciousness in some of the passengers. Twenty-four people were injured on a JetBlue flight almost exactly one year ago under similar circumstances.