NTSB investigates United Airlines plunge
December 29, 1997
The violent turbulence caused the oxygen masks to
Web posted at: 11:41 a.m. EST (1641 GMT)
NARITA, Japan (CNN) -- At least 10 people remained
hospitalized after a United Airlines jumbo jet hit severe
turbulence and plunged 300 meters (1,000 feet) over the
Pacific on Sunday. The National Transportation Safety Board
was investigating the incident, which left one woman dead and
at least 74 injured.
An airport police spokesman in Narita said that the
32-year-old Japanese woman from Tokyo had died of internal
bleeding in her head.
The sudden turbulence at an altitude of 10,000 meters (33,000
feet) sent the Boeing 747 aircraft plunging and jolting for
several minutes, tossing passengers and crew headfirst
against overhead compartments and the ceiling.
Flight 826, bound for Honolulu with 374 passengers and 19
crew members, was two hours into its flight from Tokyo's main
international Narita Airport when it hit the strong winds.
Passengers, most of them Japanese vacationers, were just
finishing their evening meal when the aircraft was buffeted
by the strong winds.
"We have just hit air turbulence and the aircraft descended
300 meters. There is no danger of a crash," the pilot told
panicked passengers on the plane's intercom.
The accident took place over the northern Pacific about
1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) east of Narita.
People were thrown from their seats and into the aisles
"I thought I was dying," said Kiyotaka Eto, a 16-year-old
high school student from Osaka who had been headed for a
surfing vacation in Hawaii.
He said his seat belt saved him from injury.
A traveling companion, Yuji Takahashi, 17, who wasn't wearing
a seat belt, said, "I hit my head on the ceiling. It was like
something straight out of the movies."
In a videotape taken by a passenger aboard and shown on
Japan's NHK television, oxygen masks dangled from the ceiling
and people lay in an aisle. Screams could be heard.
When the plane finally settled down, passengers saw that the
ceiling was sprayed with red wine, and parts of the aisle
were filled with shattered plates.
The bottles of cologne in the rest rooms were broken. The
overhead luggage compartments were cracked in some spots.
Those seated toward the back of the plane were more seriously
injured than those in the front seats.
"Our hearts go out to everyone who was on the flight and to
their family, to their friends and loved ones," said United
Chairman and CEO Gerald Greenwald.
United has assigned representatives to each of the hospitals
to assist passengers, said Joe Hopkins, United spokesman in
A Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) spokesman in Washington
said the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign was on but reports indicated
some people were moving about the cabin.
Ambulances and fire engines stood by as the aircraft touched
The scene at the airport after the jet was forced to return to Japan
Passengers with broken limbs, neck injuries and bloodied
faces were helped off the airliner.
Several injured had neck braces fitted before they were
carried from the plane on stretchers.
The FAA spokesman said that while Japanese authorities would
handle the formal investigation, the FAA would look at the
incident "because we're always interested in turbulence
issues and whether procedures were followed."
The plane's flight data recorders will be returned as soon
as possible to the National Transportation Safety Board's
laboratory in Washington for analysis.
An NTSB spokesman said the so-called "black boxes" could
possibly provide useful information about the incident and
how it was handled by the crew.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.