Honolulu Emergency Medical Services reporter 20 people were hospitalized Sunday after a Hawaiian Airlines flight they were on experienced severe turbulence. Photo courtesy of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services/Facebook
Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Twenty people aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu were hospitalized Sunday with injuries sustained when their plane hit severe turbulence prior to landing.
Officials told reporters during a press conference that 11 of the injured were considered to be in serious condition. Among the injured were three crew members.
A total 36 people received medical treatment, but some of them only experienced nausea or had sustained very minor injuries, Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, said.
He added that an initial triage report had also indicated there were people suffering from critical injuries but those were later downgraded to serious.
People suffered head injuries, lacerations and bumps and bruises, he said.
"We feel it's fortunate that there were not any deaths or any critical injuries and we are also very hopeful that all will recover and make a full recovery," he said.
Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement that Flight 35 with 278 passengers and 10 crew onboard "landed safely" at Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport at 10:50 a.m. after experiencing severe turbulence mid-flight.
"We are supporting all affected passengers & employees and are continuing to monitor the situation," it said on Twitter.
Jon Snook, chief operating officer at Hawaiian Airlines, told reporters that the plane hit turbulence about a half hour before descent and that the fasten seatbelt sign was on.
He said these troublesome air pockets that cause severe turbulence can occur without warning and that the unstable air and weather conditions on Monday "are certainly difficult to deal with."
The interior of the plane sustained some damage and the aircraft will undergo inspections before returning to service but Snook expressed no concern over its airworthiness.
"These airplanes are designed to deal with this sort of level of turbulence are designed to recover from it without issue," he said.
The weather, he added, has already resulted in three flight diversions on Sunday due to low visibility.
The incident occurred as the National Weather Service warned a strong cold front would be passing through the state Sunday and into Monday, potentially causing severe thunderstorms, heavy rain and flooding.
Snook said the degree of turbulence experienced Sunday is rare.
"We haven't experienced an incident of this nature in recent history," he said.
Hawaiian Airlines will be working with the National Transportation Safety Board on an investigation into the incident to better understand how it occurred, he said.