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21 injured after United flight hits turbulence

10:50 AM, Jul 21, 2010   |    comments
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The passengers were taken to five different hospitals in the metro area after a United Airlines flight hit the turbulence. It was headed across the country and then made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport.

"It was bad, it was bad," Michael Betts, a passenger, said. "It was the worst-I've been flying now for 17 years and it was pretty bad."

United Flight 967 lifted off just before 5:30 p.m. ET from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. and was headed to LAX in Los Angeles. A plane with the same flight number arrived in D.C. earlier in the day after leaving Rome, Italy on Tuesday morning, but it is unclear if it was the same aircraft.

"It felt like I had gone down an elevator shaft and hit the bottom and came back up," passenger Deborah Atwood said. "That's what it felt like."

According to United, the Boeing 777 flight landed at DIA at 7:39 p.m. after hitting turbulence somewhere near Colorado.

"It was just a big drop and all the wine glasses and everything went flying," Yoni Malachi, a passenger, said. "There was drink all over the ceiling."

United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy says Flight 967 was carrying 255 passengers and 10 crew members.

"It was pretty bad," Betts added. "Laptops was [sic] everywhere. It looked like there was a huge party on the plane, but there wasn't."

Denver Health Chief Paramedic Scott Bookman says hospitals were initially alerted there were 30 injuries, but only 21 were transported.

"The person behind me, he actually flew up and then he landed across the aisle on someone else's head," passenger Brian Liu said. "And so, he got a bump and bruise on the chin."

Most were moderate injuries to the head, neck or back, but one passenger suffered critical injuries; it was not released what type of injuries that passenger suffered or the passenger's identity.

"If you didn't have your seatbelt on, you got hurt," Atwood said.

At 9:30 p.m., Bookman said no additional patients were anticipated and one of the passengers refused to be transported to a hospital from the airport. At least one child, a 12-year-old, was among the injured, and was treated at The Children's Hospital.

DIA Police Capt. Brian Gallagher says the first patient transported, a woman in her 20s or 30s, was the most serious. She complained of head injuries.

Gallagher says most of the other patients were transported as a precautionary measure to get X-rays that were not possible at the airport. He says two or three of the victims were flight attendants.

The hospitals passengers were taken to included the Medical Center of Aurora, The Children's Hospital, Denver Health Medical Center, Exempla St. Joseph Hospital and the University of Colorado Health and Sciences Center.

9NEWS has learned that seven patients were taken to Denver Health and four of the patients were taken to CU Health and Sciences Center. Two of those were treated and released and two were still being evaluated. Their injuries were not serious.

A triage area was set up inside the B concourse at DIA where medical personnel evaluated the passengers.

United had to prepare another plane to take the rest of the passengers to their final destination.

United did not have a 777 in Denver and had to fly another 777 in from another city to accommodate the passengers. The airline had to take luggage off one plane and put it on another. It arrived in Los Angeles around midnight Pacific Time.

United says nothing is structurally wrong with the first plane that hit the turbulence, but the airline wants to inspect it for any possible damage.

United also plans to interview the cockpit crew to find out what happened and to check whether any mechanical problem made the turbulence worse.

Federal investigators will be looking into the incident as well.

"One of the things they're going to want to know is: How much warning they were given by the flight crew, but the flight crew is going to be interview to find out how much warning they had, what they were using as far as weather radar and information from other pilots transiting that particular area," 9NEWS Aviation Analyst Greg Feith said.

Feith says the lesson here is to always wear your seatbelt on an airplane.

9NEWS Chief Meteorologist Kathy Sabine says the flight took a path right along a cold front that moved over Colorado on Tuesday and that would cause major turbulence.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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