A worker trapped in a cargo hold caused Alaska Airlines Flight 448 to be diverted from their Los Angeles destination back to the airport in Seattle on Monday.
The plane took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 2:39 p.m. local time. Everything was going fine until the captain and several first-class passengers heard something strange approximately 15 minutes into the flight.
They recall hearing a loud banging noise coming from under the plane. Fearing that someone might be down there, the captain made the decision to return to Seattle and declared an emergency for priority landing.
“I think we’re hearing a noise from the baggage compartment,” the pilot said, according to Fox News. “Might be a person in there, so we’re going to have to come back around.”
“As we were taking off, the plane accelerated. The passengers in first class heard banging from underneath us and a person yelling for help,” Jesse Sycuro, a passenger on the Boeing 737, told KING 5 TV.
“Two air marshals that were on board quickly jumped up and conferred with a flight attendant. That message was relayed up to the pilots. And shortly after that, we heard the announcement that the plane was going to be turned around. The banging continued for quite a while we were circling…. Air marshals banged back down trying to communicate with the person in the hold and yelling down that we were landing.”
“We just took off for L.A. regular and then … about five minutes into the flight the captain came on and said we were going back and we’d land within five to seven minutes, and we did,” another passenger told CNN. “When we landed was when all the trucks and the police and the fire trucks surrounded the plane.”
Alaska Airlines released a statement following the incident. Apparently, the worker had fallen asleep and did not realize that the plane was ready for takeoff until it was too late. The airline also added that the worker was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was able to pass a drug test successfully.
“After landing, a ramp agent was found inside the front cargo hold, which is pressurized and temperature controlled. The ramp agent appeared OK, and was transported to the hospital as a precaution,” the statement read. “Upon exiting, he told authorities he had fallen asleep. The employee, who works for Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, passed a drug test this afternoon,”
The worker had been working a 5 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift as part of a four-person team. When the team did their pre-departure huddle, they realized he was missing and tried to contact him. Assuming that he had finished his shift, the plane was cleared for takeoff.
Alaska Airlines and The Federal Aviation Administration are continuing to investigate the incident.
[Photo by Twitter/Alaska Airlines]