SAN FRANCISCO — A United Airlines jet flying from Chicago to San Francisco hit severe turbulence over Utah on Wednesday, hurling screaming passengers against the ceiling and injuring 12 people.
Flight 127, a DC-8 carrying 138 passengers and a crew of six, landed safely in San Francisco, where medical personnel helped carry the injured off the plane, said airport spokesman Ron Wilson.
"It felt like the plane was falling to pieces," said passenger Grace Biesecker. "People were screaming and scattering to their seats."
Most of those who were hurt suffered injuries when the plane "nosed up and then dropped down before stabilizing," said Wilson, who noted that many passengers were not wearing seat belts.
Gary Carner, a mechanic from Farmington Hills, Mich., who was bound for a Hawaiian vacation, said there had been turbulence through most of the flight and "suddenly there was a tremendous, tremendous vibration going through the entire plane. . . . At that time, I didn't know what was going on. The vibration made your heart leap up into your throat."
Luggage slipped out from under seats and flew around the plane, Carner said. Then, seconds after it began, the turbulence stopped and passengers left their seats to help others. He said one man's head went through the plane's ceiling and one woman was knocked unconscious for about two minutes.
Staff at the airport's medical clinic treated 12 passengers for a variety of injuries, according to Dr. James Mayer. Three were sent to nearby Peninsula Hospital for treatment of head, neck and knee injuries.
Hospital spokeswoman Mary Graber identified them as John Baty, of Des Planes, Ill., who suffered minor head injuries; Wayne Tvrdick, of Glenn Mills, Pa., who suffered neck injuries, and Minnie Morrison, of Zionsville, Ind., who suffered knee injuries. All were expected to be treated and released.
"This type of turbulence isn't uncommon," Wilson said. "You just don't know when you're going to get it. It can happen over any city, any state at any time."
Wilson said some ceiling tiles fell inside the plane but there was no other damage.