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1 dead, scores hurt after United jet hits turbulence

Woman in aisle
People are thrown into the aisle by the turbulence  
December 28, 1997
Web posted at: 9:49 p.m. EST (0249 GMT)

Flight 826 en route from Tokyo to Honolulu

December 28, 1997

TOKYO (CNN) -- One woman was killed and at least 74 others were injured Sunday when a United Airlines 747 jet was struck by severe turbulence over the western Pacific Ocean.

United Flight 826, en route from Tokyo to Honolulu with 374 passengers and 19 crew members on board, was hit by turbulence some 925 miles (1,480 km) east of Tokyo.

CNN's Linden Soles reports
icon 1 min., 25 sec. VXtreme streaming video

A passenger captures part of the incident on video
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The jet was about two hours into the flight, at an altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 meters), when the turbulence occurred.

Flight attendants and passengers moving around the cabin were tossed about when the plane suddenly dropped. A passenger on board filmed the plunge with a video camera, capturing the screams of terrified passengers as people and debris filled the jet's aisles.

"This is clear air turbulence that occurs absent any weather conditions, so reports are that there really was no warning, which I think may have exacerbated the situation somewhat," Richard Martin, a spokesman for United, told CNN.

An injured passenger arrives at the hospital  

However, a warning light requiring passengers to be seated with their seat belts fastened was on at the time of the incident, according to officials from both the airline and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane returned to Tokyo's Narita Airport and arrived at 2:20 a.m. Monday. At least 74 people were taken to hospitals. All but about 10 of the injured were treated and released. Uninjured passengers were taken to hotels.

A portion of the plane's ceiling was so seriously damaged that it had to be removed.

The Kyodo News agency in Japan identified the dead woman as Konomi Kataura, 32, of Tokyo.

Oxygen masks

Both Japanese and American aviation authorities have launched an investigation into the incident. United Airlines is based in the United States.

In non-fatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. Airlines are responsible for enforcing the rule requiring passengers to wear seat belts when the overhead warning light is on.

Between 1981 and 1996, major airlines reported 252 reports of severe turbulence, resulting in two deaths and serious injuries to 63 people.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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