Wednesday, January 20, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
An injured passenger is wheeled into Queen’s Hospital.

22 hurt in
rough air

Continental's Japan flight
encounters turbulence

Gregg K. Kakesako and Helen Altonn


At least 22 people, including four crew members, were injured today when a Continental 747 jumbo jet encountered turbulence about three hours into a flight from Japan to Hawaii.

Sarah Anthony, Continental spokeswoman in Houston, said preliminary reports indicate the 18 passengers - all Japanese nationals - and four crew members, presumably flight attendants, experienced minor injuries.

"They suffered minor bumps and bruises," Anthony said. "There were also reports of neck and back pain."

"There were no reports of life-threatening injuries," she said.

Anthony said Continental flight 910 left Narita Airport at 7:43 p.m. bound for Honolulu on what is normally a 6-1/2-hour flight.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
An ambulance transports the injured from Honolulu Airport..

About three hours into the flight, the aircraft encountered "clear-air turbulence," which Anthony described as being unpredictable.

Meal service for the flight had just begun and most of the passengers were seated, said Alison Russell, a Continental spokeswoman in Honolulu.

But she didn't know whether the seat belt sign was on when the incident occurred.

There was no damage to the interior of the plane, Russell added.

After the aircraft landed at Honolulu Airport at 7:23 a.m., four ambulances took injured passengers to Queen's Hospital.

Five were carried into the Queen's emergency room on stretchers.

Thirteen of the 18 injured passengers sought hospital treatment, including nine females who were treated for minor injuries and released. Two of them were children, a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old infant. Two of the four males were children, one a 12-year-old and the other a 21-month-old infant.

The Continental flight ended in Honolulu.

Other passengers went through U.S. immigration at the airport and proceeded on with their visits.

The 747-200 jumbo jet was at 33,000 feet when the incident occurred. It was carrying 330 passengers, a crew of 15 attendants and three pilots.

Initial reports from state Department of Transportation officials at the scene indicate that all of the injured passengers were riding in the back part of the aircraft.

Continental said it is investigating the incident.

Turbulence is the primary cause of in-flight injuries, with about half of the 17 severe cases of turbulence reported in 1997 resulting in injuries, the Federal Aviation Administration has reported.

Most were hurt because their seat belts were not buckled.

Passengers are required to wear their seat belts during takeoffs, landings and turbulence.

Thirteen months ago, one passenger was killed and 102 were injured when a United Airlines 747 flying from Narita to Honolulu hit turbulence.

Konomi Kataura, 32, died of internal cerebral bleeding.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
A passenger injured when a Continental Airlines
747 flying from Japan to Honolulu encountered
severe turbulence, is transferred from one ambulance
to another on arrival at Honolulu Airport today.

Air safety still
turbulent issue
for all airlines

Flight attendants have called
for more stringent rules
on seat belt use

By Richard Borreca


With Federal Aviation Administration estimates of 58 airline passengers a year injured by turbulence, some major airlines moved last year to require seat belt use at all times.

Today, 22 people were injured when a Continental flight hit turbulence.

Continental does not require passengers to remain buckled in their seats, but Continental spokeswoman Ruth Ann Becker said the pilot had turned on the seat belt sign prior to "the worst part of the turbulence."

The most common injuries, according to the FAA, happen when a plane hits clear-air turbulence without warning. Injuries happen as passengers are thrown from their seats and hit the overhead bins, hurting their heads, necks and shoulders.

Flight attendants, concerned after one passenger died and 102 people were injured during a United flight from Japan to Honolulu in December 1997, have pressed for better standards.

"It is time for the FAA to issue rules that will ensure that passengers and flight attendants are buckled into their seats for more of their time in flight," a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants said during a symposium on air safety last year.

Today, four flight attendants and 18 passengers were hurt when a Continental Airlines plane hit clear-air turbulence on a flight from Japan to Honolulu.

In Honolulu, Brian Worth, local council president for the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents Hawaiian Airlines, says there is a constant concern about seat belt use.

"At any moment you could hit a big bump and be seriously injuried. That is why the pilots are fastened in the cockpit," he said.

Hawaiian Airlines requires passengers to keep their seat belts on, even when the "fasten seat belt" light goes off, Worth explained.

Although passengers are allowed to get up to go to the bathroom, they must stay in their seats during the flight.

"It is actually amazing how many passengers we have to remind.

"It is a trend now for airlines to require seat belt use at all times," he said.

Research scientists, especially weather researchers, have been given increased funds to predict clear-air turbulence. The FAA's budget for weather research, for instance, went from $3 million to $12 million last year.

Federal weather researchers estimate that a commercial aircraft will encounter significant turbulence somewhere in the United States every other day.

Several programs to detect clear-air turbulence are under way, including on-board sensors to read the density and movement of air approaching the aircraft. But still the smartest safety measure, according to aviation experts, is to stay strapped in.

Airline officials, according to a special report on turbulence in Aviation Weekly last year, are concerned about the problem because it so scares the public.

"It rarely kills anybody," one senior industry safety researcher told the magazine. "But it scares the hell out of people, many of whom never want to fly again. It's bad for business."

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