A Lufthansa flight that experienced “significant turbulence” was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport and seven people on board were taken to area hospitals, authorities said.
Flight 469 from Austin, Texas, was headed to Frankfurt, Germany, but landed safely Wednesday night at the Virginia airport, said Michael Cabbage, a spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.
Airport crews responded to the flight and took seven people to hospitals with injuries believed to be minor, Cabbage said.
The Airbus A330 reported severe turbulence at an altitude of 37,000 feet (about 11,300 meters) while flying over Tennessee, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The agency is investigating.
Passenger Susan Zimmerman, 34, of Austin, Texas, said one of the pilots told the cockpit that the plane had fallen about 1,000 feet (about 305 meters) during the episode, which came on suddenly.
“It felt like the bottom had been dropped from below,” he said in a phone interview. “Everything was floating. For a moment, you are weightless.
The brief but severe turbulence occurred about 90 minutes after takeoff and led to the unscheduled landing as a precaution, Lufthansa said in a statement. After landing, the affected passengers received medical attention and Lufthansa ground staff were working to get the passengers new flights, the airline said.
“The safety and well-being of passengers and crew members is Lufthansa’s top priority at all times,” the statement said.
Turbulence remains one of the leading causes of in-flight accidents and injuries, according to a 2021 NTSB report. Turbulence accounted for 37.6% of all accidents on the largest commercial airlines between 2009 and 2018.
What is turbulence?
Turbulence is essentially unstable air that moves in unpredictable ways. Most people associate it with strong storms. But the most dangerous type is clear-air turbulence, which can be difficult to predict and often without visible warning in the sky.
The storms moved through areas of Tennessee late Wednesday, creating strong winds in the upper atmosphere, said Scott Unger, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville.
“There was a lot of wind in the air, which could easily lead to the possibility of turbulence on any flight,” he said.
The turbulence occurred during meal service and passengers and crew were moving around the cabin, said Zimmerman, who is five months pregnant. She said that she was still wearing her seatbelt and that neither she nor her baby were hurt.
“I’m pretty sure he slept through the whole process,” she said. “She’s surrounded by amniotic fluid.”
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