A Hawaiian Airlines pilot said a cloud “shot out” like a plume of smoke just before the plane experienced severe turbulence that injured 25 people last month, according to a preliminary report by federal investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in the report that the flight’s captain reported conditions were “smooth with clear skies.”
Then, “a cloud shot vertically (like a plume of smoke) in front of the aircraft within seconds, and there was insufficient time to deflect,” according to the report.
The report, citing the captain’s account, stated that the captain alerted the main flight attendant that the flight might experience turbulence, and within one to three seconds, the aircraft experienced severe turbulence.
“Soon after the disruption associated with the turbulence, the flight crew was informed by the lead flight attendant that there were multiple injuries in the cabin,” the report said. It added that a post-accident weather check in the area “revealed a closed forward system with an associated upper trough” moving toward the Hawaiian Islands.
The disturbance injured 25 people — six of them seriously — on the Dec. 18 flight from Phoenix to Hawaii that was carrying 281 passengers and 10 crew members, according to the report. Previously, officials He said 36 people were injured11 of them were serious, and there were 238 passengers on board.
The disturbance occurred 40 minutes before the plane was due to land at Honolulu International Airport. The aircraft sustained minor damage, though the report did not provide details.
Investigators said satellite and weather radars, along with lightning data, showed “strong cells” in the area, and that the National Weather Service issued a thunderstorm warning. The report stated that there were no previous reports of severe disturbances prior to the accident.
The NTSB will continue to investigate and issue a final report, usually within 12 to 24 months, according to the agency.
Turbulence, which is atmospheric movement that often occurs unexpectedly and cannot be seen, can be created by various conditions, including cold or warm weather fronts, thunderstorms, and jet streams.
Between 2009 and 2021, at least 146 people, including passengers and crew members, were seriously injured due to turbulence, According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
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