Six passengers and two flight attendants were injured on Wednesday after a regional American Airlines flight between Florida and Tennessee hit “unexpected turbulence,” as reported by airline officials.
On July 20 at 14:36 EDT, American Eagle flight 3609, operated by Envoy Air, took off from Tampa with 52 passengers and four crew onboard, heading to Nashville. The flight was operated by an Embraer ERJ-175, registered N270NN.
About an hour into the flight, while at FL370, the jet experienced severe turbulence lasting around thirty seconds, causing injuries to several passengers and crew unbuckled and walking around the cabin.
“Everything was smooth and I think that was why it was such a surprise because all of a sudden we just hit a bumpy spot, and what started off as shaky soon turned in to something much more significant,” passenger Brad Tice told local media.
Recounting his experience, Tice noted that one injured flight attendant in first class was left with blood over her face after hitting something during the incident.
At least seven passengers were ferried to nearby hospitals, with injuries ranging from general anxiety to minor head trauma. Photo: Getty Images
“Anyone who didn’t have their seatbelt on, they hit against the ceiling. The guy who was behind me cracked the plastic in the vents in the ceiling because he hit so hard,” he said.
After speaking to air traffic control, the flight deck crew opted to divert to Birmingham, Alabama, around 80 NM south of their current heading, citing a medical emergency.
The plane made a safe landing on runway 24 around 20 minutes after the incident, with at least seven of the injured taken to hospitals with neck and back injuries.
First responders Birmingham Fire Department confirmed there were no severe injuries to any onboard, with only minor injuries including anxiety, a bloody nose, and some head trauma reported, according to Fire Chief Sebastian Carrillo.
Tice praised the actions of the crew onboard for their swift resolution, adding, “It won’t stop me from flying. If anything, it reassured me of the safety of flying and the sturdiness of aircrafts.”
In June 2021, another American Airlines flight encountered severe turbulence, leading to a diversion to New Orleans. With one serious injury reported, the National Transport Safety Board rated it an accident. Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying
A replacement ERJ-175, registered N203NN, ferried passengers to Nashville around six hours later, with the flight finally arriving at its destination at 21:07 CDT.
N270NN remained at Birmingham Airport for 20 hours, returning to service for a flight to Dallas the following morning. The incident is currently under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Despite being an uncomfortable experience, turbulence is typically harmless. Incidents like Wednesday’s are exceptionally rare, though they highlight the importance of wearing your seatbelt during a flight, even when seated.
In June of last year, another American Airlines flight between Dallas and Tampa encountered extreme turbulence, leading to a diversion to New Orleans. Passengers onboard flight 2401, operated by an Airbus A321-200, experienced significant altitude deviations of over 150 feet, causing minor injuries to ten passengers and one serious injury reported by a crew member. The National Transportation Safety Board rated the incident as an accident following an investigation.
Did the crew of American Eagle 3609 handle Wednesday’s incident well? Have you encountered severe turbulence on a flight? Let us know in the comments.
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