CALGARY – Passengers are describing a Toronto-bound Air Canada flight that was diverted to Calgary on Wednesday as a terrifying roller-coaster ride.
Emergency officials said 21 people, including three children, were taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor sprains to serious chest and neck trauma. However, no one suffered life-threatening injuries.
Passengers on Flight 088 said with only about two hours left in the flight from Shanghai, the pilot came on the intercom and warned they were entering an area of turbulence.
But no one was prepared for the jolt which sent the Boeing 777 into sudden descent.
“It was the flight from hell,” said passenger Connie Gelber.
“The girl beside me was thrown right out of her seat down the aisle. Everyone was injured. We thought we were dying. Even the steward never in any of their years had seen anything like it.”
Gelber said it appeared the most seriously injured had ignored the pilot’s warning and had not buckled up.
“They did not have their seatbelts on, and that’s a lesson to be learned to all of you,” she said. “Put your seatbelts on, even when it’s sunshine.”
Some passengers described waves of turbulence, but others said it wasn’t all that bad.
“It was a little scary,” said Gord Murray of Toronto. “All the crew were very professional, handled themselves really well. Everyone stayed calm. A few people had a couple of minor injuries and were a little bit shaken up but we made it back safe and sound. It could have been much worse.”
He said a handful of passengers with medical training checked people after the turbulence ended, going first to those who were feeling ill.
“They were wonderful,” he said. “It was very, very quick, the one burst and then after that everyone remained calm.”
Esther Du said it was a frightening experience.
“The first time was just a little shake, and then suddenly we go up quickly and we just fall down,” she said. “Luckily, I had my seatbelt fastened but the boy beside me didn’t.”
She said he flew up and hit the bulkhead above him.
She admitted to wondering, “Are we going to be OK? Are we going to be alive?” and said even though she wasn’t hurt, she was nervous about getting onto the next flight that would take her to her destination.
Passenger Sharon Zong also said she had jitters about getting back on a plane, joking that she had to veto her husband’s suggestion they drive back to Toronto.
Emergency Medical Services spokesman Stuart Brideaux said the injured were transported to four Calgary-area hospitals and were all in stable condition. He said the children were ages 11 and 12.
Many could be seen be taken on stretchers and back boards to ambulances waiting in front of the terminal doors. Some had their necks stabilized with towels and medical tape. Others were sitting upright. One person had a towel over their face.
Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur confirmed the flight, which was carrying 332 passengers and 19 crew members, hit turbulence.
A website that tracks air-traffic control data showed the plane changed course over northern British Columbia.
“Air Canada will be making arrangements to accommodate all other passengers including those continuing on to Toronto,” Arthur said.
Later on Wednesday evening, Air Canada said some of those who had been taken to hospital had already been released.
“Our focus today has been on those passengers who have been injured in this incident and those other passengers on the aircraft for whom this has been a very unsettling experience,” said Klaus Goersch, executive vice-president and chief operating officer at Air Canada.
“Safety is always our first priority and so any incident involving the safety of our passengers and crew is of utmost concern.”
He said the airline is co-operating fully with the Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the incident.