Continental Flight 128 Passengers Detail Terrifying Turbulence

Passengers tossed around the cabin, some were knocked unconscious.

ByABC News
August 3, 2009, 9:53 AM

Aug. 4, 2009— -- As Continental Flight 128 hit turbulence Monday, tossing people around the cabin like rag dolls, Carolina Portella grabbed the hand of the person next to her.

"I was like, 'Hold my hand,'" she said, "'because if we're going to die, I don't want to die alone. I'm so scared.'"

But no one has died from their injuries suffered on Monday's ill-fated flight, though one person has not yet been released from the hospital. Some people are calling their survival a miracle.

More than two dozen people were injured when the Continental Airlines plane hit turbulence on its way to Houston from Brazil, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in Miami.

Pictures from inside the cabin show evidence from the violent ride, including panels that were likely cracked by people's heads and oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling.

"One lady, she just came out of her seat and flew over the middle row, hit her head on the wall, landed on her back," passenger Diego Saavedra said.

Officials said the plane hit the turbulence about six hours into the flight. The seat belt lights were on, but passengers said there was no warning.

"People can call it turbulence, they can call it anything they want," Fabio Ottolini said, "but to me the plane was just falling out of the sky."

Ottolini said it felt like the plane was in a free fall.

"I think we're talking about 300 feet, at least," he said.

Another passenger, Richard Sharp, helped tend to the injured.

"Some of them were unconscious for a short period of time," he said.

ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said turbulence is usually caused by a rising or descending column of air that pilots can't see. While planes are equipped with Doppler radar to track storms, he said, those systems can't track air molecules.

"It's like hitting a speed bump at 500 mph," Nance said. "It's very, very violent."

That said, the danger of turbulence breaking up a plane is "almost zero," he said.

"It's not that it scares us, but we want to give everyone a smooth ride," Nance said, "and we certainly don't want people thrown out of their seats."