CALGARY — Failing to heed warnings to buckle up is being blamed for several injuries sustained after an Air Canada jet encountered severe turbulence in 2015, prompting an emergency landing in Calgary.
In a report released Monday by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, none of the 21 passengers injured on Flight 88 were wearing seatbelts when the Boeing 777-33ER encountered three separate areas of severe turbulence near Anchorage, Alaska — about eight hours into the nearly 14-hour journey from Shanghai to Toronto.
The plane was carrying 332 passengers and 19 crew.
Just before 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2015, emergency crews were called to Calgary airport to meet the battered Air Canada flight. Fifteen ambulances transported the injured passengers to area hospitals.
Much of the injuries consisted of sprains, scrapes and bruises. One passenger sustained injuries serious enough to require an extended stay in hospital. None of the injuries was consistent with seatbelt use, the TSB said.
Air Canada dispatchers received word about turbulence from other planes and notified Flight 88’s pilots.
Cabin crews secured the aircraft and ordered passengers to fasten their
The 36-page report says the flight encountered three separate periods of prolonged turbulence totalling nearly 20 minutes.
Flight data states passengers were subjected to quick successions of negative and positive g-forces more than double the force of Earth’s gravity, flinging unbuckled passengers out of their seats into overhead cabin fixtures — many with enough force to shatter them.
Just before the first encounter, a passenger seated in business class left their seat to use the washroom, disregarding orders to sit down. The passenger was thrown against the ceiling before falling to the floor.
The aircraft also suffered damage, exacerbating existing issues with the plane’s air-handling system. The turbulence even activated the plane’s ‘stick-shaker’ — warning pilots of an imminent stall.
Pilots diverted to Calgary due to the airport’s long runway, as well as the need to remain low and away from the mountains over concerns about a potential loss of cabin pressure due to the damaged air-handling system.
Passengers on the flight described a chaotic scene, with photos of a debris-strewn cabin and dangling oxygen masks appearing on social media.
The report specifically mentions a lack of seatbelt use as a contributing cause of injury.
In a statement to Postmedia, Air Canada said the incident serves as a reminder of the importance to buckle up during fights, even when the seatbelt sign is turned off.
“Most of the passengers who were physically injured were aware that they were required to wear their seatbelts, but chose not to,” the statement read.
“The TSB also noted that airline crews have limited means to compel passengers to comply with instructions to fasten their seatbelt.”
According to the TSB, turbulence is the leading cause of in-flight injuries to passengers and crew members, and often cites lack of seatbelt use as a factor in aircraft injuries.