A Texas woman is suing Continental Airlines and three other airlines after a turbulent flight left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental trauma, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Colleen O'Neal, of Lubbock, Texas, claims that a flight through stormy weather from College Station to Houston left her with an "intense fear of flying" that affected her mental health and her career.
The lawsuit filed at the Harris County District Court claims that what supposed to have been a 20-minute flight on Oct. 29, 2009, turned into a two-hour ordeal. The aircraft rose and fell "as if it had lost power and was falling out of the sky," leading O'Neal to fear she was going to die, the court papers said.
"I was thinking about my family and thinking how they would do without me because there no doubt in my mind there I was not going to survive this ordeal," O'Neal said. "There was a lot of screaming going on and chaos. One woman had brought out her rosary and was praying."
Weather reports prior to the flight's takeoff had predicted intense thunderstorms with a "threat of tornadoes, wind shear, and dangerously strong winds," the lawsuit said.
At one point during the flight, the pilots attempted an emergency landing in Victoria, Texas, but were forced to abort.
O'Neal's attorney, Corwin Fargason, said that at the end of the flight passengers posed with the pilots for a photo to celebrate their survival.
"I've flown quite a bit in my life and there's a difference between bumpy and what she experienced," Fargason said.
According to the complaint, O'Neal now suffers from PTSD symptoms, including "nightmares and flashbacks" that have left her unable to fly.
"After the flight I started experiencing horrible nightmares, the most graphic nightmare that I experienced frequently was the plane cracking open like an egg and all of us falling into the abyss. There were several nights of waking up hollering in cold sweat," she told ABC News.
O'Neal purchased the ticket through Continental Airlines, but the flight was operated by Colgan Airlines.
She is also suing United Airlines, Colgan and Pinnacle Airlines. United merged with Continental Airlines last year and Pinnacle Airlines owns Colgan Airlines.
O'Neal, who works as a district manager for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said her fear of flying cost her a position at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She would have been required to travel by air.
In published reports, officials for Continental, United and Pinnacle declined to comment on the lawsuit.