There’s a reason why flight attendants and airline captains tell you to keep your seat belt on at all times.
At least, that’s the obvious lesson to be learned from this week’s incident where 21 people were injured when their United Airlines plane hit violent turbulence while flying over Missouri.
The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation to figure out what happened Tuesday evening when United Airlines Flight 967, on its way from Washington Dulles International to Los Angeles, encountered serious turbulence over Missouri.
The Boeing 777 landed in Denver, and 21 people from the plane were sent to local hospitals for treatment for injuries to their heads, necks and backs. The group that got treatment included 17 passengers and four flight attendants.
USA Today did a comprehensive story on turbulence, which the paper says is the leading cause of severe midair injuries apart from fatal crashes. And most serious injuries, such as spinal damage, occurred when airlines passengers weren’t wearing their seat belts, according to the paper’s research of federal statistics.
In the case of Flight 967, in what must have been a horrifying scene passengers were tossed around like dolls. A witness said one woman’s head struck the side of the cabin so hard that left a crack above the window. Another passenger was thrown out of her seat and hit the ceiling.
The United Airlines pilots had been warned by air-traffic controllers that they were flying neat thunderstorms. And the plots had put on the seat belt sign and told people the plane might hit a rough patch of air, according to United Airlines spokeswoman.
“Turbulence can create violent bucking, making passengers and heavy beverage carts weightless, then slamming them onto walls, ceilings or the floor,” USA Today wrote.
USA Today dug up a lot of interesting figures. For example, from 1980 through 2008 five people were killed and 298 were badly hurt in turbulence, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Four of them were wearing their seat belts, the rest hadn’t buckled up.
And of the 22 people last year who sustained bad injuries, including broken bones, on flights 15 were due to turbulence, says the National Transportation Safety Board.
That’s not all of the dangers of turbulence. A female Continental Airlines passenger was paralyzed in April last year when she disobeyed the seat belt sign and announcements and went to the lavatory.
It may be tempting to take your seat belt off while you’re flying, but keep it on, for your own good.