Dulles, Va. — A Lufthansa flight experiencing “significant turbulence” was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport and seven people on board were taken to area hospitals, officials said.
Flight 469 from Austin, Texas, was headed to Frankfurt, Germany, but landed safely Wednesday night at an airport in Virginia, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman Michael Cabbage said.
Crews responded to the flight and took seven people to hospitals with injuries believed to be minor, Cabbage said.
The Airbus A330 reported severe turbulence at an altitude of 37,000 feet (about 11,300 meters) while flying over Tennessee, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The agency is investigating.
Passenger Susan Zimmerman, 34, of Austin, Texas, said one of the pilots told the cabin that the plane fell about 1,000 feet (about 305 meters) during sudden turbulence.
“It felt like the bottom fell out from under,” he said in a phone interview. “Everything is floating. For a moment, you are weightless.”
Brief but severe clear air turbulence about 90 minutes after takeoff led to the unscheduled landing as a precaution, Lufthansa said in a statement. The passengers received medical attention and Lufthansa ground staff were working to rebook the passengers, the airline said. There were 172 passengers.
“The safety and well-being of passengers and crew is Lufthansa’s top priority at all times,” the statement said.
Turbulence continues to be a major cause of accidents and injuries during flight, according to a 2021 National Transportation Safety Board report. Turbulence accounted for 37.6% of all accidents on larger commercial aircraft between 2009 and 2018.
Turbulence is essentially unstable air moving in an unpredictable manner. Most people associate it with strong storms. But the most dangerous type is clear-air turbulence, which can be difficult to predict and often shows no warning in the sky ahead.
Storms moved into areas of Tennessee on Wednesday night, creating strong winds in the upper atmosphere, said Scott Unger, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Nashville.
“It’s very windy at the top, which can quickly lead to the possibility of chaos in any flight,” he said.
The chaos struck midway through meal service as passengers and crew members moved throughout the cabin, said Zimmerman, who is five months pregnant. He said that he was still wearing his seatbelt and that he and his son were not injured.
“I’m sure he slept through it,” he said. “She is surrounded by amniotic fluid.”