‘We thought we were going to die:’ Thirty injured as ‘strong turbulence’ forces Air Europa plane to land in Brazil

Thirty passengers were injured after a flight from Madrid to Uruguay was hit by “strong turbulence” and had to make an emergency landing in Brazil, Spanish airline Air Europa said on Monday.

“Our flight UX045 bound for Montevideo has been diverted to the Natal airport (in Brazil) due to strong turbulence,” Air Europa said in a post on X.

“The plane has landed normally and those who sustained different types of injuries are already being treated.”

The aircraft hit by turbulence was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. The plane has the capacity to hold up to 339 passengers, according to Air Europa’s website.

One of the passengers, Evangelina Saravia, told the Uruguayan news outlet Teledoce that there had been about 20 minutes of mild turbulence before the plane suddenly dropped 400 meters at a speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour – catching some passengers, who had ignored the seatbelt warnings, off guard.

“(Before the drop) there were people walking, people without belts. There were children sleeping without belts,” Saravia said. “People were thrown from the seats and hit the ceiling, that’s why the ceiling broke,” she added.

Another passenger, Daniel Montañez, told CNN he and his wife had been sleeping with their seat belts on when the turbulence hit and awoke to see some of their fellow passengers hitting the ceiling of the cabin and falling back down.

“People who did not have their seat belts unfortunately suffered consequences, injuries,” he said. “There were people broken, people on the floor, people screaming, people who felt bad, people bleeding … A rather chaotic image. As you can imagine, the nerves at that point start to play after you come to your senses about what happened, because at that moment you don’t really notice anything, only movements and madness.”

Damage on the inside of the plane that was forced to land in Brazil after turbulence. - Courtesy Pichi Pastosa
Damage on the inside of the plane that was forced to land in Brazil after turbulence. - Courtesy Pichi Pastosa

Another passenger, Stevan, told Reuters: “There are passengers with fractures and injuries to their arms, faces, and legs. There are about 30 people injured. It was a pretty horrible feeling; we thought we were going to die there, but thank God it didn’t happen.”

The Spanish airline said that another plane was set to depart later on Monday from Madrid and pick up the passengers stranded in Brazil to continue their journey to Uruguay.

Air Europa those passengers in need of healthcare were treated in Brazil’s Natal International Airport.

A second Air Europe flight picked up some of those diverted to Brazil and took them to Montevideo, Uruguay, their original destination, according to an Air Europa post on X.

The passengers arrived in Montevideo on Tuesday morning at 07:20 a.m. local time, according to Air Europa. The airline added in a post on X that they “regret what happened and the inconvenienced caused.” Air Europa also said that some personnel have traveled to Natal to support the passengers that continue to receive medical assistance.

The news comes as the latest development in a string of bad publicity for the airplane manufacturer Boeing.

While there’s no evidence so far that the injuries on the Air Europa flight had anything to do with a safety malfunction, Boeing has recently faced a series of whistleblowers alleging safety issues at the company.

Just last week, a whistleblower came forward alleging parts of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner planes were built in an unsafe manner – potentially leading to “devastating consequences.” A previous whistleblower, Sam Salehpour, a Boeing engineer, said he found and reported similar gaps in 787 and 777 aircraft.

For nearly two years starting in 2021, the FAA and Boeing halted deliveries of the new Dreamliners while it looked into the gaps. Boeing said it made changes in its manufacturing process and deliveries ultimately resumed.

More than a dozen whistleblowers have come forward against Boeing in recent years, and the number has grown substantially since a door plug blew off a 737 Max plane in January just after takeoff, leaving a gaping hole in the side the plane.

The FAA has opened multiple investigations into Boeing and the US Department of Justice said it may file criminal charges against the company because of its ongoing quality and safety failures.

CNN’s Claudia Rebaza, Audry Jeong, Duarte Mendonca, Gabe Cohen, David Goldman and Gregory Wallace contributed reporting.

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