30 Injured When United Flight Hits Air Turbulence

DIA Triage Area Set Up In Concourse B

As many as 30 people were injured when a Boeing 777 traveling from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles hit severe air turbulence and made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport.

The airliner landed around 7:40 p.m. Tuesday and emergency personnel set up a triage area on Concourse B, where the plane had taxied to the terminal.

At least one of the passengers was immediately taken to a waiting ambulance, skipping the triage area, which is used to evaluate injuries before transport. The woman was taken to Denver Health Medical Center.

The "walking wounded" were treated in the B concourse. Most of the injured passengers were complaining of head, neck and back pain, paramedics said.

"It looked like it's mostly like neck injuries and bruises. I saw a couple of people bleeding on their elbows. One lady, she was texting her daughter, she had sprained her ankle," said Madeleine Anaya, a passenger on the flight.

Four of those injured were flight attendants, according to United Airlines.

None of the injuries were life-threatening, firefighters said, but some are serious, considering that the passengers were tossed against the ceiling and the side wall of the plane when the plane flew into the patch of rough air.

One woman was thrown so hard against the plane that the impact cracked the wall by the plane's window.

A woman was thrown so hard into the side of the plane that she cracked the wall by the plane's window.

Ambulances ferried 21 injured passengers to five local hospitals.

"It is really unusual to see this many patients from a single episode of turbulence. Every once and a while we get reports of one to two patients. But in the last decade I can't remember one incident where we had to transport more than a couple of patients due to turbulence," said Scott Bookman, chief paramedic of Denver Health.

Flight 967 was en route from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles when it hit the turbulence over Missouri around 7:15 p.m. and diverted to DIA from the Kansas/Oklahoma border.

"The crew put safety first and immediately diverted the aircraft to Denver to get medical attention as quickly as possible," United said in a statement.

The jet was carrying 255 passengers and a crew of 10, according to United Airlines.

The turbulence hit while some of the passengers were out of their seats, halfway through the flight.

"People who didn't have their seatbelts on flew out of their seat and hit the roof of the airplane," said passenger Patricia McKeof.

"It came out of nowhere. There was really no turbulence but all of a sudden a huge jolt," said Anaya. "Everything was flying -- people who were not buckled up were injured."

Another passenger said it felt like the plane dropped several hundred feet.

"It was pretty bad. Laptops were everywhere. It looked like there was a huge party on the plane but there wasn't," said passenger Michael Batts.

"I was sleeping at the time, when it took place. I woke up listening to screaming, shaking. It was terrible," said passenger Ami Hoamnisin.

All passengers were off the jet by 8:05 p.m. and all of the patients who required hospital treatment were transported from DIA by 9 p.m.

Hospitals that were put on standby to accept injured passengers were Denver Health Medical Center, University Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, Aurora Medical Center and Rose Medical Center. Seven injured people went to Denver Health. Four went to University Hospital.

The flight path of United Flight 967, showing where it diverted.

One 12-year-old child was taken by ambulance to The Children's Hospital in Aurora.

By Tuesday morning, all had been released from the hospital

The passengers who were not hurt boarded another plane late Tuesday night and continued the flight to Los Angeles.

People who fly often know that turbulence is a common occurrence in flight. In fact, aviation expert Steve Cowell said in this region the Rocky Mountains play a role in the turbulence toward the east.

"It's just like water flowing over rocks in a stream, where you have turbulence that's created downstream of those rocks. The exact same thing happens with winds flowing over the Rocky Mountains. It creates downstream turbulence," Cowell said.

Cowell said the incident is proof it's best to always keep your seatbelt on during flights, no matter if the seatbelt sign is on or off.

There have been two flights this year where turbulence caused injuries. A flight from Washington to Tokyo in February hit turbulence and 20 people were injured. In May, 10 people suffered injuries, including broken bones, from a turbulent United flight that flew over the Atlantic ocean.