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18 February 2014

Turbulence injuries on a United flight out of Denver

17 February 2014, United Airlines 737-700, flight 1676, near Billings, MT: Yesterday, several passengers and crew members were injured in a turbulence event involving a United Airlines 737-700 that was en route from Denver, CO to Billings, MT, with at least one passenger hitting the ceiling hard enough to damage a panel. According to the FAA, the captain declared a medical emergency, and the aircraft landed without further incident. The event took place in the early afternoon, and the aircraft was reportedly in clear skies at the time of the incident.

United 737-700 in Billings, MT after turbulence event

The aircraft apparently encountered turbulence during descent that caused several flight attendants and unrestrained passengers to be tossed in the air. Most of the the injuries were minor, and only one victim, a flight attendant, required hospitalization.

Among those tossed in midair was an infant, who landed in a nearby seat and was not injured. According to United, there were 114 passengers and five crew members on board, and three flight attendants and two passengers were injured. Since the 737 has two flight crew members, this implies that all of the flight attendants who were on board were injured.

Turbulence events are not that rare, with the NTSB noting hundreds of such events in their online database. The FAA notes that in the 10-year period from 2002-2011, a total of 110 passengers and 219 crew members were injured by turbulence. has extensive background information on inflight turbulence at, including advice on how to reduce turbulence risks and a link to a mobile phone app that will allow you to measure turbulence while you fly.

While significant turbulence events that lead to injuries occur several times a year, fatal events are much more infrequent. The last turbulence event that led to a passenger death was in 1997 on a United Airlines 747 that was on a flight from Japan to the US.

Fear of flying and turbulence
Capt. Tom Bunn of the SOAR fear of flying program offers insights into what causes turbulence, and shows passengers a method for controlling the anxiety that turbulence causes some passengers.

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Resources turbulence information
Passengers killed by turbulence
FAA turbulence information
How to measure turbulence while you fly
Using child restraints on aircraft
Airline pilot Patrick Smith weighs in on turbulence

Photo credit: Caleb VanGrinsven

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