A passenger was killed on Friday, March 3, after a Bombardier Challenger 300 experienced severe turbulence. The aircraft operating as a business jet was scheduled to fly from Keene, New Hampshire, to Leesburg, Virginia. However, it was forced to divert to Windsor Locks Bradley International Airport (BDL) following the turbulence encounter.
Aboard the jet were three passengers and two crew members. Connecticut State Police responded to a call for medical assistance at the airport at approximately 3:49 p.m., according to Sarah Salerno, a spokeswoman for the State Police. The deceased was taken from the airport to a nearby hospital though they are yet to be identified. It is unclear whether or not the deceased was following safety guidelines, like wearing a seatbelt, at the time of the incident.
Sarah Sulick, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said that the agency would not release any more information regarding the nature of the turbulence, the deceased, or any other injuries that may have occurred since investigations are still ongoing.
The NTSB said investigators are interviewing the crew, operator, and passengers. They also removed the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the plane at the Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
FlightAware, a flight tracking website, shows the plane took off from Dillant/Hopkins Airport in Keene at 3:35 p.m. before landing at Bradley International Airport 25 minutes later. It was headed towards Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia. On the day before the incident, the plane flew from Leesburg to Keene, where it landed shortly before noon in a flight that lasted less than an hour.
According to flightradar24, the aircraft was climbing to 22,500 feet when its vertical rate suddenly increased as its ground speed decreased at around 3:44 p.m. Its ground speed continued to decrease until 3:45 p.m., as the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 25,580 feet. Following that, the Bombardier jet descended to Windsor Locks, landing around 4:00 p.m.
The jet is registered as N300ER and is a Bombardier BD-100-1A10 Challenger 300. It can carry a maximum of eight to nine passengers along with two crew members.
According to the Boston Globe, the aircraft is owned by Conexon, a company based in Kansas City, Missouri. It specializes in bringing high-speed internet connectivity to rural communities. In an email statement released on Sunday, the company confirmed its ownership of the jet and said the deceased was not a Conexon employee.
“We ask for privacy for the family members of those involved. We have no further details of the incident at this time,” the company’s statement concluded.
A preliminary report is expected to come out within two to three weeks, Sulick said.
Frequency of Turbulence-related Accidents
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), turbulence is air movement caused by jet streams, atmospheric pressure, cold or warm weather fronts, air surrounding mountains, or thunderstorms. Pilots cannot always anticipate it, and when a plane experiences turbulence, the resulting jolt can injure unbuckled passengers and crew members.
While this incident involved a private jet, a 2021 NTSB report found that between 2009 and 2018, 37.6% of all accidents on large commercial airplanes were turbulence related. A different FAA report indicated that between 2009 and 2021, there were 146 serious injuries due to turbulence.
The FAA describes serious injuries as those requiring hospitalization exceeding two days, causing a bone fracture, resulting in severe hemorrhage, significant burns, or involving an internal organ. Of the 146 serious injuries, 80% were suffered by crew members.
Last week, on March 1, Lufthansa flight 469, flying from Texas to Germany, experienced severe turbulence 90 minutes after takeoff and was forced to divert to Virginia’s Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). Seven people were injured and taken to hospitals nearby.
Another notable incident occurred in December last year when 36 people aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu were injured when their plane hit severe turbulence. 20 of the 36 injured were taken to hospital.
Airlines Can Be Held Liable for Turbulence and other In-flight Injuries
While turbulence is unavoidable on most flights and a normal part of flying, there are still measures airlines and crew can take to prevent inflight injuries. Victims of turbulence injuries can pursue negligence claims depending on how they sustained them. An airline can be held liable if its crew (pilots, cabin crew, maintenance, or ground crew) fails in its duty of care towards passengers. For example, they may fail to carry out standard operating procedures leading to in-flight injuries, or the airline may have negligent operating procedures. Here are some examples of liability situations:
Most flight occupants injured in a turbulence encounter are either out of their seats or seated with unbuckled seatbelts. This makes the seatbelt light and oral turbulence warnings critical to avoiding turbulence injuries.
As such, if the pilot does not turn on the seatbelt sign or announce the need to do so before a turbulence injury, victims of such an event may be eligible for compensation from the airline. The airline can also be liable if the pilot, with reason, fails to predict turbulence.
Inadequate safety measures
An airline can be held accountable for injuries that arise because it failed to develop or implement appropriate safety measures. An example of this is failing to train their personnel on handling an emergency or failing to update their procedures to current safer standards.
Improperly stowed items
Cabin crews should ensure that potentially hazardous objects within the cabin are properly secured. Overhead bins should be latched to prevent luggage from falling onto passengers, and food carts should not come loose during the flight. The airline can be held liable if the crew fails in this duty.
Sometimes, the manufacturer of the plane, or parts of it, is the one to blame. An example is a defective latch. Suppose the cabin crew latches it securely as required, but the latch comes undone during turbulence allowing luggage to spill out. In that case, passengers can seek compensation from the latch’s manufacturer or the distributor of the latch. Whenever a component of an aircraft fails, a product liability claim can be brought against the responsible parties.
How Dangerous is Turbulence
Flying is still the safest form of travel and getting safer. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 2022 global safety report, 2021 saw a 9.8% decrease in accidents compared to 2020. This is despite an 11% increase in flights in 2021.
Though airplane accidents (for both passengers and cargo) are rare, turbulence still accounts for over a third of them. However, flying through turbulence is unlikely to jeopardize the safety of the aircraft and is often just a fright or inconvenience to passengers and crew. Nonetheless, when they occur, turbulence can lead to:
- Cuts and bruises
- Neck strain
- Bone fractures
- Spinal cord injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
After an In-flight Injury
If you suffer an in-flight accident, it’s best to avoid talking directly to the airline. They know that they may have to pay out compensation and be fishing for information that reduces or eliminates that obligation. As such, it would be wise not to provide the airline or its representatives with ammunition like oral and written statements.
Moreover, do not sign any documents and accept money from them without first consulting a lawyer. They can liaise with the airline, protect your claim, and provide you with the best possible outcome.
Immediately after the accident, do the following first:
- Inform a crew member that you have been injured.
- Seek medical attention.
- Document your injury and keep all medical documents relating to your injury.
- Note how the crew behaved in the aftermath, e.g., did they offer first aid and do so in a timely manner? How did they carry out emergency procedures?
These precautions can help protect your claim after an in-flight injury, strengthen your claim, and help lawyers determine whether the crew acted appropriately under the circumstances.
The Montreal Convention
US travelers who suffer in-flight injuries will find it easier to receive compensation if they were on an international flight rather than a domestic one. This is due to the 1999 Montreal Convention, which provides a legal framework for airlines operating across borders. It is friendlier to passengers than US rules.
According to the Montreal Convention, passengers need only prove that they were on an international flight and experienced an accident to be eligible for compensation. An accident, in this case, is defined as an “unusual or unexpected event external to the passenger.” Light turbulence does not apply, but severe turbulence, hot coffee spills, overhead luggage spills, tripping hazards, etc., do apply.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Aviation law is complex, with intricate laws and jurisdictions designed to keep the skies safe. Planes themselves are also highly complex machines. Due to the complexity involved, aviation accident victims should seek an experienced aviation lawyer to represent them against airlines and their representatives or associates. Consult with a lawyer today for legal representation in a personal injury claim.