'Earthquake in the air' causes chaos on jumbo
By AINSLEY THOMSON
A crew member was knocked unconscious and several passengers injured when a United Airlines jumbo hit severe turbulence over the Pacific last night.
The aircraft made an emergency detour to Auckland, and landed about 11pm.
Flight UA 862 from Sydney to San Francisco was four hours into its journey when it hit "clear air " turbulence.
Passenger Julie Greenwood, from San Francisco, said the turbulence lasted about 30 seconds.
"It was like an earthquake in the air. I was lifted out of my chair twice."
The incident was terrifying, especially when her 18 month old daughter Stella briefly passed out.
Mary Brander, 77, from Sydney, said she was lucky to be sitting down when the aircraft rocked violently.
"It was so unexpected, the bottom seemed to be falling out of the plane. One minute we were in clear blue sky and it hit."
The worst injured were at the rear of the plane. They included a flight attendant and a person who was in a toilet.
Julie Greenwood said a female attendant was knocked out and badly injured when she was pinned under a food trolley.
She suffered leg fractures and was admitted, with three passengers and another crew member, to Middlemore Hospital early today.
The others had minor injuries, including cuts and bruises.
Crew, helped by three doctors and a vet on board the Boeing 747-400, treated some of the injured as the aircraft headed for Auckland.
Four ambulances were at Auckland Airport to assess the passengers when the aircraft landed.
It was carrying 269 passengers and 21 crew.
The flight left Sydney at 3.35pm (NZ time) and turned back about 7.35pm.
The aircraft was over Tonga when the pilot decided to detour to Auckland, the closest large city with medical facilities.
Airline officials said the decision was made for "passenger safety".
The aircraft landed without incident.
Passengers were taken through Auckland Airport and accommodated in hotels overnight. They are expected to continue their journey today.
"Clear air turbulence" occurs when a plane hits a sudden change in air conditions in no cloud, much like a boat hitting a huge wave.
It is sometimes associated with jet streams between Australia and Indonesia.