Written by Peter CarterUpdated on July 21, 2020
The past month provides plenty of empirical evidence supporting the theory that the prevalence of airline passengers injuries resulting from turbulence is increasing.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, global warming is the cause. On February 12 a Korean Airlines A388 sustained severe turbulence near Kodiak, Alaska causing injures three occupants. Flight KE-33 from Seoul to Atlanta when the aircraft encountered cruise level “clear air turbulence”.
The aircraft subsequently descended and continued the flight to Atlanta, where it landed safely about 6 hours later. The injured – one flight attendant and two passengers – were treated by airport medical personnel.
The following week on February 18, a United Airlines domestic passenger flight from Denver to Billings, (Montana) carrying 114 passengers and five crew declared an emergency after severe turbulence encountered causing several passengers to be flung from their seats into the aircraft ceiling.
United Flight 1676 completed a routine landing following which five persons – including a passenger whose head shattered an overhead panel when flung up into it – were ambulanced to hospital. The very same day, a Cathay Pacific aircraft en route from San Francisco to Hong Kong with 321 passengers and 21 crew encountered turbulence lasting for 2 minutes overhead Sapporo, Japan causing injuries to up to 20 persons. The aircraft landed normally after 5 hours. 8 persons were hospitalized.
On 4 March a Virgin flight XR-657 from Canberra on the descent to Sydney encountered severe turbulence causing serious injuries to at least one person, a flight attendant. The aircrew declared an emergency, interrupting the approach to land on runway 16R to confirm operations were normal, before resuming for a safe landing about 15 minutes later.
ATR-72-500 Qantas QF72 A330 aircraft from Singapore to Perth on 8 October 2008 encountered a loss of control with turbulence like outcomes. With more than 80 passengers injured, QF72 represents the most serious turbulence event in modern airline history.
On 8 November 2013, QF-460 – a Boeing 767-300 aircraft from Melbourne to Sydney – was on approach to Sydney’s runway 34L descending through about 3000 feet when the aircraft encountered severe turbulence causing the crew to execute a missed approach.
The aircraft climbed to 8000 feet and diverted to Newcastle for a safe landing about 80 minutes later. Two passengers were taken to a hospital with injuries received as result of loose objects flying through the cabin and hitting them during the turbulence encounter. Several others received unspecified injuries.
A second Qantas aircraft, – an Airbus A330-200 arriving from Perth – went around from low height (below 1000 feet MSL) on final approach to runway 34L about 5 minutes after QF-460 and also diverted to Newcastle. The crew of QF-582 reported to tower that they had experienced “a big bang” from the wind changing from north to east then west.
A passenger onboard of QF-460 reported they were on approach to Sydney when the aircraft encountered “major turbulence”, they attempted to land twice but diverted to Newcastle. The flight scheduled to be airborne for about 80 minutes turned to about 4 hours duration. Passengers were bussed back to Sydney.
A passenger onboard QF-582 reported mobile phones, laptops and hand luggage became airborne in the cabin. A lot of airsick bags became filled during final approach. Qantas confirmed the turbulence encounters, two passengers on board QF-460 were hospitalized. Both occurrences have been investigated by the ATSB who reported: “severe turbulence made it hard to maintain control of the aircraft.”
“A passenger hit on his head by a laptop computer, that fell out of an overhead locker” sustained a serious head injury. According to Met office “a strong and gusty south-westerly change approached Sydney and produced wind shear between 4000 and 5000 feet with up to 60 knots wind speed changes.”