Passengers aboard an Aeroflot flight from Moscow were left with serious injuries after their plane encountered heavy turbulence about an hour before they were scheduled to land in Bangkok on May 1. Among those who were reportedly harmed were three babies who were injured when the heavy turbulence caused them to be thrown from their mothers’ arms. Although heavy turbulence like that experienced in the Boeing 777 aircraft is rare, turbulence can cause catastrophic injuries to aircraft passengers.
Up to 25 People Hospitalized on Boeing 777 Flight to Bangkok
Aeroflot flight SU-270 reportedly flew into heavy turbulence while it approached Bangkok. Up to 25 people were hospitalized, including two who needed immediate surgery to treat their injuries after the Boeing 777 incident. Among the injuries to adults were internal bleeding and loss of consciousness, with the most severe injuries experienced by people who were in the aisles when the plane hit the turbulence.
Some news reports indicated that three babies suffered broken spines, though those reports have not been confirmed.
One passenger on the plane filmed the event and posted online about it.
“Numerous air pockets one hour before landing led to broken bones, internal and external bleeding,” said Evgenia Zibrova. “Lots of people from the tail cabin have broken their noses, several people have probably broken their spines.”
According to reports, there were 318 passengers and 14 crewmembers on board the aircraft for the flight. A statement from the Russian Embassy in Bangkok indicated the aircraft hit an “air hole” while in flight.
“Some injured passengers were not wearing seat belts,” the Russian Embassy stated. “All victims were taken to a local hospital with various injuries, mostly fractures and bruises. Some require surgery. Fifteen people remain hospitalized.”
Passenger Describes Chaos During Turbulence
Rostik Rusev, an American from New Jersey, told CNN the turbulence lasted about 10 seconds.
“There was blood on the ceiling, people with broken noses, babies who were hurt,” Rusev said. “It was horrible. It came out of nowhere. It was like driving a car and a tire suddenly bursts.” He also commended the flight crew for their professionalism and courage.
Video footage of the aftermath shows injured passengers lying on the floor, blood along the luggage racks, and at least one passenger with a cut to his head.
Following the turbulence, the plane, which left Moscow at 7:20 p.m. local time on April 30 was able to land safely at 8:20 a.m. local time on Monday, May 1.
Clear Sky Turbulence Difficult to Prepare For
Experts say the plane flew into “clear sky turbulence,” which is turbulence that occurs during periods where the sky is clear and there are no clouds. Turbulence itself is relatively normal, though usually much less severe than what was experienced by the flight to Bangkok. It happens when smooth airflow has been disrupted by a change in airflow, pockets of air that travel in different directions, or warm air rising through cold air.
During cloudy periods, flight crew can more easily predict turbulence and warn passengers to return to their seats and fasten their safety belts, but that is more difficult to do in clear skies.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of injuries linked to turbulence aboard U.S. airliners in 2016 doubled compared to 2015. In 2016, the agency noted, there were 44 injuries linked to turbulence, while in 2015 there were 21. In 2009, there were 107 injuries caused by in-flight turbulence.
Among the injuries noted by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):
- A jolt of turbulence at 20,000 feet as a United Airlines flight heading from San Francisco to Denver caused a flight attendant to strike her face on a counter, causing a fractured facial bone and a gashed cheek.
- Clear-air turbulence experienced by a JetBlue Airbus A321 from JFK to Barbados caused a flight attendant to drop hot water, resulting in second-degree burns.
- Clear-air turbulence experienced by American Airlines Airbus A319 approaching the Caymen Islands resulted in one passenger suffering a fractured vertebra and seven other people suffering injuries.
“Clear-air turbulence is particularly problematic and a leading cause of flight attendant injuries,” said Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “By its nature, it is difficult or impossible to predict. That is why we stress that passengers keep their seat belts on whenever they are seated and pay particular attention to crewmember instructions during all phases of flight.”
Passengers who are not properly buckled into their seats can suffer serious and even catastrophic injuries, including whiplash, spinal injuries or traumatic brain injuries. If the flight crew could reasonably have anticipated the turbulence, but failed to warn passengers or take steps to ensure seat belts were fastened, the airline could be liable for any injuries that result from the turbulence.