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'I Couldn't Believe We Were Alive': Extreme Turbulence On JFK-Bound Flight Injures Dozens Of Passengers

A Turkish Airlines flight
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A Turkish Airlines flight not this one, pictured in Germany

An aircraft coming into JFK from Istanbul hit a rough patch on Saturday evening, battering passengers who found themselves suddenly vaulted from their seats. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 30 of the 347 people onboard had to be hospitalized due to turbulence-related injuries—mostly minor complaints like "bumps, bruises, and cuts," although one flight attendant did break a leg.

That casualty count does not do justice to the fully fledged pandemonium that unfolded inside the cabin, though. As Mohammad Hoque described it to the NY Post:

Suddenly the plane was going down very fast, turning right and left. For 20 minutes it was shaking. People were upside down. People were falling. Everyone was screaming. We thought this is the end. We were praying.

The Port Authority says that the chaos cropped up about 45 minutes before Turkish Air flight 001 managed to pull off a safe landing around 5:35 p.m. Passengers were evaluated for injuries upon arrival, and the nightmare did not snarl plane traffic. It did, however, traumatize everyone trapped onboard, as well as their loved ones.

Florian Brulaj watched a fleet of ambulances descend on Terminal 1 as the flight arrived, and got a bad feeling about the situation even before his father, Zef Brulaj, was wheeled off the plane on a stretcher. Florian conveyed his dad's account of the ruckus to the NY Post: "All of a sudden the plane just started going up and down," he said. "Anyone who didn't have their seat belt on, their head hit the ceiling."

Another traveler, Sead Nikaj, told the NY Times that he saw his neighbor jettisoned from her seat while oxygen masks dropped from overhead. Although the nightmare lasted only 10 to 15 minutes, it was sufficient to put him off flying for life: "I'm done with it, I'm definitely done with it," Nikaj said. "Until we parked [the plane], I couldn't believe we were alive."

In a statement to the Times, Turkish Airlines said it was "deeply saddened by this unfortunate experience." According to the Federal Aviation Administration, however, this kind of thing is not exactly unheard-of. If shooting yourself across the sky in a tin tube raises your baseline anxiety levels to begin with, then turbulence is probably the thing you should fear most: It injures more airborne travelers than any other form of non-fatal flight accident, with 234 turbulence incidents creating nearly 300 injuries between 1980 and 2008. The moral of the story: keep your seatbelt fastened at all times, when the light is on but also when it's not, because you never know when a rocky patch might jolt you into the overhead bins.

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