A United Airlines jetliner hit severe turbulence while flying over Kansas, injuring 30 and jolting one woman out of her seat so forcefully that she left a crack when she hit the side of the cabin, authorities and a witness said.
The Tuesday flight was the airline's third this year during which passengers were hurt because of turbulence.
The flight originated at Dulles International Airport and was headed to Los Angeles. It was diverted to Denver International Airport, where it landed safely around 7:45 p.m. and was met by medical crews, Denver Fire Department spokesman Eric Tade said.
Twenty-six passengers and four crew members were injured, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor in Los Angeles said. He said one person was critically hurt, but he released no further details.
Officials said many of the injured were taken to hospitals -- most with only moderate neck and back injuries. All but one has been released. None of the injuries was life-threatening. Hospitals declined to release the nature of the other injuries.
"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 24,000 feet when it hit the heavy turbulence, said FAA spokesman Mike
Fergus. It was carrying 255 passengers and 10 crew members.
One passenger from D.C. said it felt like "the bottom dropped out" of the plane. Passengers described seeing people thrown from their seats, against the ceiling and into other people.
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 woman sitting next to her hit her head on 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.
The crew decided land the Boeing 777 in Denver to tend to the injured, United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy 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.
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.
Two people were treated and released from the University of Colorado Hospital and two others were being evaluated, spokeswoman Erika Matich said.
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 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.
"Thank God I wasn't on that flight," Smith said.
Inspectors found "no obvious damage'' to the diverted plane's exterior, Gregor said. They also found nothing wrong during a
preliminary look at the plane's interior. But Fergus said the incident would be a "front-burner item" for both the FAA and the
National Transportation Safety Board. Spokesmen from United and the NTSB said they are investigating the incident.
In February, about 20 people were hurt when a United flight with 263 people onboard experienced turbulence halfway through a 13-hour trip from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo.
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.