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36 Passengers Injured After Severe Turbulence on a "Flight From Hell" to Hawaii. "She Flew up and Hit the Ceiling."

“All around me there were people crying.”

An investigation has been launched by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board into Hawaiian Airlines Flight 35, following the December 18 incident where 36 people were injured and 22 people taken to the emergency room after the plane experienced severe and terrifying turbulence. The plane was heading from Phoenix to Honolulu when heavy turbulence hit approximately 15 to 30 minutes before the plane was scheduled to land at Daniel K Inouye International Airport, with 278 passengers and 10 crew members on board.

"It felt like free-falling," says passenger Jacie Hayata-Ano, who told CNN she was lifted off her seat even with a seatbelt on. Here is what other passengers say they experienced on what is being called the "flight from hell."

Sudden Turbulence


Hawaiian Airlines flight 35 landed safely in Honolulu, but many people on board had to be treated for injuries such as serious head injuries, loss of consciousness, and cuts and bruises. When turbulence hit, the fasten seatbelt sign came on—but not fast enough to prevent people from being thrown upwards toward the ceiling of the plane.

"Sometimes, these air pockets occur with no warning," says Hawaiian Air executive vice president and chief operating officer Jon Snook. "It's rare to have that level of extreme turbulence. It was a very extreme case of mid-air turbulence. We're very thankful the extent of the injuries was not critical. It could have been worse."

Mother Hit the Ceiling


Passenger Kaylee Reyes said her mother had just returned to her seat and hadn't had a chance to buckle her seatbelt when the turbulence hit. "She flew up and hit the ceiling," Reyes said. Hawaii News Now posted a picture of damage to the plane, with the photo showing a severely cracked overhead ceiling. 

People Were Bleeding


Another passenger says there were actually two severe drops in altitude, with passengers left bleeding from their injuries. "I turned around and there was a couple of people bleeding and just bracing themselves," says Jazmin Bitanga, who was flying home for the holiday season. Bitanga says the drop was so dramatic, her boyfriend's water bottle cracked the ceiling. "Just all around me there were people crying," she says.

Surreal Experience


Passenger Jacie Hayata Ano relates the terror experienced on the flight when the plane started to shake. "It was just rocky," she says. "And then, it quickly just escalated to, like, the point where we're shaking so much that we were, like, pretty much floating off of our chairs. You could see people were hurt around us and things are just everywhere… that's pretty surreal."

Hitting Heads On Ceiling Of Plane


Some passengers were desperately holding on to anything they could, despite having seatbelts on. "I was grabbing the seat in front of me, the top of it, to hang on, even though I had my seat belt on," says passenger Jodette Neely, who says she saw people hitting their heads on the aircraft ceiling.

No Critical Injuries


Authorities say there were no critical injuries from the incident, and those injured are expected to make full recoveries (although they might not be comfortable flying for a while!). "We are also very happy, and we feel fortunate that there were not any deaths or other critical injuries," says Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services. "And we're also very hopeful that all will recover and make a full recovery."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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