36 people injured, 11 seriously hurt after Phoenix flight to Honolulu hits severe turbulence

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians treated passengers for injuries, including serious head injuries, cuts, bruises, and loss of consciousness.
Published: Dec. 18, 2022 at 5:05 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 19, 2022 at 8:39 AM MST

HONOLULU, HI (3TV/CBS 5) - At least 36 people were injured, and 20 were hospitalized Sunday after a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu hit severe turbulence about 30 minutes before landing.

The turbulence sent some passengers flying out of their seats, and at least one hit the ceiling. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians treated passengers — ranging in age from 14 months to adults — for a long list of injuries, including serious head injuries, cuts, bruises, and loss of consciousness.

Hawaiian Airlines said Flight 35 from Phoenix “landed safely” in Honolulu at about 10:50 a.m. The plane was carrying 278 passengers and ten crew members. It was unclear how many of those injured were crew. “The airline is supporting all affected passengers and employees,” an airline spokesperson said.

Shortly before the aircraft landed, dozens of firefighters, paramedics, and the state Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Team were called to the airport for the “mass casualty emergency,” meeting the aircraft at Gate 10A. Of those injured, 20 people were taken to emergency rooms. Eleven were in serious condition, and nine were in stable condition, a Honolulu EMS spokesperson said.

The National Weather Service said the severe turbulence happened at about 36,000 feet. “We believe the flight may have gone through a thunderstorm, which may have caused the severe turbulence,” said NWS meteorologist Genki Kino. “During that time, there were scattered thunderstorms everywhere.”

Passenger Kaylee Reyes said the plane was about 30 minutes from landing when the severe turbulence hit. Her mother had just sat down when the incident happened and hadn’t had a chance to buckle her seatbelt. “She flew up and hit the ceiling,” Reyes said, adding the turbulence came out of nowhere.

Some passengers suffered head injuries, others had bruises and bumps, and about ten people had motion sickness. “We are also very happy, and we feel fortunate that there were not any deaths or other critical injuries,” said Jim Ireland from the Honolulu Emergency Services Department. “We are also very hopeful that all will recover and make a full recovery and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them and their families.”

“There was no warning of this particular patch of air in that altitude was in any way dangerous it caught everyone by surprise, which is often the case,” John Snook, Chief Operating Officer of Hawaiian Airlines, said in a press conference. Snook also said the airline has employees looking after and attending to the guest’s medical needs, and they are also flying family members from the outer islands to Honolulu to visit the guests. “I also want to thank our crew members, three of whom were injured during the flight and transported to the hospital, and despite that, our crew did a terrific job managing what was a very difficult situation.”

The incident comes as a powerful cold front begins to impact the state, bringing the threat of strong winds, torrential rains, and thunderstorms.

Monday morning the NTSB confirmed it is investigating the incident. The agency also pointed out a recent safety report that examined turbulence-related accidents and safety issues that need to be addressed.