50 injured on Boeing 787 as “strong shake” reportedly sent heads into ceiling

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A Boeing airplane on a runway. The LATAM Airlines logo is printed on the side of the plane.
Enlarge / A LATAM Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner taxiing at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Chile on March 20, 2019.

Getty Images | SOPA Images

About 50 people were injured on a LATAM Airlines flight today in which a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner suffered a technical problem that caused a “strong shake,” reportedly causing some passengers’ heads to hit the ceiling.

The plane flying from Australia to New Zealand “experienced a strong shake during flight, the cause of which is currently under investigation,” LATAM said on its website today. LATAM, a Chilean airline, was also quoted in news reports as saying the plane suffered “a technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement.”

The Boeing plane, carrying 263 passengers and nine flight and cabin crew members, landed at Auckland Airport as scheduled. New Zealand ambulance service Hato Hone St. John published a statement saying that its “ambulance crews assessed and treated approximately 50 patients, with one patient in a serious condition and the remainder in a moderate to minor condition.” Twelve patients were taken to hospitals, the statement said.

Most of the patients were “discharged shortly after,” LATAM said on its website. “Only one passenger and one cabin crew member required additional attention, but without any life-threatening risks.”

The plane was originally supposed to continue from New Zealand to Chile, but that leg of the trip was rescheduled. LATAM said it is “working in coordination with the respective authorities to support the investigations into the incident.”

Boeing told news outlets that it is “working to gather more information about the flight and will provide any support needed by our customers.” We contacted Boeing today and will update this article if it provides more information.

Passenger describes nosedive, people hitting the ceiling

Passenger Brian Jokat described the frightening incident in interviews with several media outlets. “The ceiling’s broken from people’s heads and bodies hitting it,” Jokat said, according to ABC News. “Basically neck braces were being put on people, guys’ heads were cut and they were bleeding. It was just crazy.”

Jokat was also quoted as saying that he “felt the plane take a nosedive—it felt like it was at the top of a roller coaster, and then it flattened out again.” It all happened in “split seconds,” he reportedly said.

Today’s flight came about two months after a near-disaster involving a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane used by Alaska Airlines. On January 5, the plane was forced to return to Portland International Airport in Oregon after a passenger door plug blew off the aircraft during flight.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that four bolts were missing from the plane. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the incident, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Boeing was seeking a safety exemption from the US Federal Aviation Administration related to its 737 Max 7 aircraft, but withdrew the application in January after the 737 Max 9 door-plug blowout.