A United Airlines jetliner was diverted to Denver after 30 people onboard were injured, one critically, when the plane hit severe turbulence while flying over Kansas, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The flight originated at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and was headed to Los Angeles. It landed safely at around 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at Denver International Airport, where it was met by medical crews, Denver Fire Department spokesman Eric Tade said.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor in Los Angeles said 26 passengers and four crew members were injured. He said one person was critically hurt, but he released no further details.
Officials said many of the injured were transported to a handful of area hospitals with only moderate injuries. By late Tuesday, some had been released or were expected to be released.
"There are mostly walking injuries," Tade told The Denver Post. He said the injuries included bruises, whiplash, strains and sprains.
Some passengers were placed on another flight to Los Angeles that arrived there just before midnight.
Flight 967 was flying over Kansas at an altitude of about 34,000 feet when it hit the heavy turbulence, said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus in Seattle. It was carrying 255 passengers and 10 crew members.
The turbulence was "just a huge up and down," said passenger Kaoma Bechaz, a 19-year-old Australian in the United States visiting her boyfriend.
Bechaz told the Post that the head of the woman sitting next to her hit the side of the cabin, leaving a crack above the window, and a girl across the aisle flew into the air and hit the ceiling.
Bechaz said she wasn't thrown around because her seat belt was tight.
United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said the crew decided to be safe and land the Boeing 777 in Denver to tend to the injured.
The seven patients taken to Denver Health — all women — were being evaluated but likely would be treated and released Tuesday night, spokeswoman Dee Martinez said.
Three people went to Swedish Hospital in Englewood with moderate injuries, spokeswoman Julie Lonborg said. A 12-year-old was taken to Children's Hospital in Aurora, but a spokeswoman there didn't know the nature of the child's injury.
Two people were treated and released from the University of Colorado Hospital and two others were being evaluated, spokeswoman Erika Matich said.
United was working to find flights for the uninjured passengers Tuesday night. Airline spokesman Michael Trevino told the Post that a special United flight took off for Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. carrying many passengers from the diverted plane.
Tim Smith of Boulder was on United Flight 937, which also flew into Denver from Washington on Tuesday and landed after the diverted plane. He said his flight was delayed an hour and 20 minutes because of thunderstorms, but didn't have any problems.
Smith saw ambulances and police cars surrounding a gate on the tarmac and one person on a stretcher when his plane taxied to the gate at the Denver airport.
"Thank God I wasn't on that flight," Smith said.
Meanwhile, Gregor said inspectors found "no obvious damage" to the diverted plane's exterior. They also found nothing wrong during a preliminary look at the plane's interior. But Fergus said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will be looking more closely.
He said the incident would be a "front-burner item" for both agencies.
United Airlines has had other rocky flights this year.
In February, about 20 people were injured when a United flight experienced turbulence halfway through a 13-hour trip from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo. The Boeing 747 had 263 people onboard.
In May, 10 people suffered injuries, including broken bones, on a United flight that hit severe turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean on its way from London to Los Angeles. The Boeing 777 was diverted to Montreal.
Associated Press writers Judith Kohler and Thomas Peipert in Denver, and Denise Petski in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.
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