FAA: Turbulence injuries jolt twice as many flights in 2016

FAA: Turbulence injuries jolt twice as many flights in 2016

Originally published in USA Today

WASHINGTON (April 21, 2017) — A gashed face while descending into Denver. A fractured spine while heading to the Cayman Islands. Second-degree burns from scalding water while heading to Barbados.

These were among the most serious injuries from turbulence aboard airliners last year, when the Federal Aviation Administration said the number of injuries doubled from a year earlier.

The 44 injuries in 2016 compared to 21 in 2015, the FAA announced Wednesday. During the last 15 years, the lowest total was 12 in 2006 and the highest was 107 in 2009, according to FAA.

Passengers tend to get injured more than crew members, and three-quarters of the injuries last year were for passengers. But crew members often suffer serious injuries because they frequently are standing or walking around the cabin when so-called “clear air” turbulence strikes unexpectedly.

The FAA urges passengers to listen to flight attendants and use an approved child-safety seat for children under 2 years old. The FAA also urges airlines to include turbulence in weather briefings, and to have pilots and dispatchers relay reports about turbulence.

Flight attendants said the incidents serve as a reminder of the risks of their profession – and the need for passengers to remain seated with their seat belts fastened during flights.

"Airplanes have seat belts for a reason. Turbulence is a serious threat in the air and it cannot always be predicted," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "It is one of the highest causes of serious on the job injury to flight attendants. The forces created in sudden clear air turbulence can throw bodies and unsecure items forcefully through the cabin much like the impact of a high speed collision. If you are not strapped in and secure, it could be deadly."

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated airline turbulence incidents during 2016 including:

--On Dec. 13, a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Denver hit mountain-wave turbulence and a “big jolt” at 20,000 feet. A flight attendant securing the galley in the Boeing 737-800 was thrown to the ceiling and then struck her face on a counter that gashed her cheek and fractured a facial bone.

--On Aug. 11, a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to Sacramento encountered stormy weather above South Dakota. Three flight attendants and 24 passengers suffered minor injuries in the turbulence, and the Airbus A320 made an emergency landing in Rapid City.

--On Aug. 3, an American Airlines flight descending to the Cayman Islands bumped into 6 to 8 seconds of severe clear-air turbulence with no warning, despite using weather radar aboard the Airbus A319. The seat-belt sign had been on for 10 minutes, but five passengers and three crew members were injured. One passenger was taken to the hospital with a fractured vertebra.

--On July 28, a JetBlue flight from JFK to Barbados ran into clear-air turbulence with no warning from weather radar aboard the Airbus A321. A flight attendant carrying a pot of hot water swung the pot away from another crew member after one bump, but a sudden drop sent the pot into the air and scalded her left shoulder and side with second-degree burns.

--On July 26, a United flight hit a few seconds of turbulence at about 16,500 feet while the Embraer 170 descended into Cleveland. A flight attendant fell in the galley and broke her left tibia, and a doctor aboard the flight assisted her.

--On Jan. 15, pilots on a Southwest Airlines flight from Providence to Fort Lauderdale were warned about a weather front to the west of their path, but encountered 3 seconds turbulence over Titusville while beginning to descend. The seat-belt sign was illuminated aboard the Boeing 737-700, but a flight attendant securing the galley fell and broke her ankle.


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