Most flyers hate turbulence and for good reason. The bumps can make some sick and can cause disruptions to inflight service. However, most passengers don’t imagine turbulence so severe that it results in injuries.
Sadly, this is exactly what happened on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye Airport (HNL) to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD).
The flight, HA450, operated by an Airbus A330-200, was cruising normally over the Pacific Ocean, approximately 5 hours into the flight of 11 hours when unexpected turbulence occurred.
The turbulence was described as severe and several passengers were unable to stay seated and were projected toward the ceiling of the cabin, causing injury. The reason for this was that the bumps occurred very suddenly and therefore cabin crew members were not able to appropriately prepare the passengers by reminding them to sit down and keep their seat belts fastened.
This is not necessarily the fault of Hawaiian Airlines, moreover, it was simply a challenging situation to face and the sudden nature of the crisis didn’t allow for time to think and brief others. It is not uncommon to encounter unexpected turbulence that has not been forecasted or even reported by preceding aircraft.
Thankfully, only 3 passengers and 4 cabin crew members were harmed during the bout of severe turbulence, which lasted less than 5 minutes in total. The flight then proceeded normally towards Sydney and upon arrival, 3 people were transported by ambulance to hospital with others having some minor scrapes and bruises.
It is important to note that this episode was a direct result of a phenomenon known as CAT, or Clear Air Turbulence, something that is very difficult to predict as it’s not associated with other weather systems or storms - many pilots might not see it coming until entering the area of CAT.
The good news is that none of the injuries were life-threatening and all passengers and crew members are in a completely stable condition.
The aircraft was also exposed to high structural loads and therefore was inspected closely upon arrival in Sydney. However the aircraft mechanics found no damage or problems with the aircraft, and the return flight transpired completely normally.
As common as turbulence is, it rarely causes aircraft incidents or passenger and crew members harm. This can be down to the very careful safety precautions followed in the aviation sector, underpinned by countries’ aviation regulators, and frequent, thorough training.
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