Several dozen passengers were injured Tuesday after a United Airlines jet encountered severe turbulence while flying over Kansas.
Denver International Airport's Concourse 2 looked like a hospital emergency room for a little while after United Airlines Flight 967 landed with approximately 30 injured passengers on board.
"All of a sudden the plane dropped probably…20-30 feet," passenger Alexander Walan recalled. "I saw at least two people hit the ceiling. A girl in front of me two rows - I saw her hit the ceiling and slammed back down. Luckily, I had my seatbelt on."
The UA jetliner with its 255 passengers and 10 crew members had been flying along calmly at 34,000 feet when the turbulence occurred.
"Couple oxygen masks popped down, ah, drinks went flying, and it was all over in about two, three seconds - so we were weightless for probably a second or two," one passenger described the incident.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said one person on board was critically injured. The sudden shaking of the aircraft threw one woman out of her seat so hard, that the impact cracked the cabin's wall. Among the injured were four flight attendants.
"It was pretty bad," said Michael Batts, another passenger. "Laptops were everywhere. It looked there was a huge party on the plane, but there wasn't."
Most of the people who were injured on the Washington-to-Los Angeles flight were in the category of walking wounded, suffering whiplash, sprains and strains.
Flight 967 was the airline's third plane this year to encounter such violent turbulence that the jet had to be diverted from its original flight plan, so injured passengers could be treated.
Last fall, the FAA made it mandatory that new jetliners have enhanced features to protect those on-board when such incidents occur. Those safety measures include stronger seats, more head protection, and airbags sewn right into the seat belts.
"If the aircraft runs into something and decelerates at a great enough level to be a risk to the passengers, the airbags will deploy," explained Bill Hagen, general manager of AmSafe Aviation, a manufacturer of safety equipment for the aerospace, defense, and ground transportation industries.
United quickly responded and another jet was rescheduled to fly the passengers who weren't hospitalized to Los Angeles.
"Thank God I wasn't on that flight," said Tim Smith, a passenger who was booked on another United flight.