A cloud billowed vertically like a plume of smoke seconds before a Hawaiian Airlines flight suffered severe turbulence last month and injured 25 people on board, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The captain of the December 18 flight from Phoenix to Honolulu told investigators that flight conditions had been smooth with clear skies as the cloud lifted in front of the plane and there was no time to change course, the report said.
He called the head flight attendant and told her there might be turbulence. Within one to three seconds, the plane “encountered severe turbulence,” the report said.
Shortly thereafter, the chief flight attendant told the crew that there were multiple injuries in the passenger cabin.
Of the 291 passengers and crew on board, 25 were injured, including four passengers and two crew members who were seriously injured, the report said. The aircraft sustained minor damage.
Tiffany Reyes, one of the passengers taken to the hospital, said the next day she had just returned to her seat from the bathroom and was about to put on her seatbelt when the flight dropped.
In an instant, Reyes said she was on the aisle floor, staring at collapsed ceiling panels and a cracked bathroom sign hanging.
“I asked everyone around me, ‘Was that me?'” Reyes said. “They said I apparently flew into the ceiling and slammed to the ground.”
Reyes said she initially thought something had hit the plane and it crashed, and they would die, as she had never encountered anything so violent on a flight.
“That’s the most terrifying experience I’ve had in my entire 40-year life,” Reyes said.
Hawaiian Airlines chief operating officer Jon Snook said at the time that such turbulence was unusual, noting that the airline had never experienced anything like it in recent memory. The seatbelts sign was on at the time.