Passengers 'Lifted From Seats' as Jet Veered From Skydiving Plane

Screams, loose luggage, bumped heads followed sudden altitude drop.

ByABC News
July 2, 2013, 1:48 AM

WASHINGTON, July 2, 2013— -- The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a close call between a Spirit Airlines flight and a skydiving plane that forced the jetliner to nose-dive 1,600 feet, causing screaming passengers to fear the plane was going to crash.

The sudden drop caught unsuspecting passengers off guard as luggage spilled out of overhead bins during the incident Sunday evening over the skies of Michigan.

Traveling with her family, 19-year-old Gabrielle Maschke grabbed her 10-year-old sister and prepared for the worst.

"Right when we did that first drop, I grabbed my little sister," she told ABC News. "I knew that shouldn't have happened and that something bad is going to happen."

The Spirit Airlines flight took off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport with 126 passengers on board en route to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport a little after 8 p.m. local time. As the plane was climbing off the runway, the pilot of the aircraft was told there was a skydiving plane nearby.

The Spirit pilot confirmed that he could see the smaller aircraft on his Terminal Collision Avoidance System, but suddenly an alarm went off in the cockpit, telling the pilot to dive from 14,400 to 12,800 feet.

At the closest, the two planes were 1.6 miles apart horizontally and 400 feet vertically, the FAA said.

Spirit Airlines said in a statement to ABC News, "Our pilots followed appropriate procedures and adjusted their flight path upon receiving an advisory of another possible aircraft in range. The flight continued to Dallas/Fort Worth without incident and no injuries to customers."

Passengers had no warning of the sharp dive before the maneuver took place.

"I was horrified, to say the least," Maschke's mother, Janet Dunnabeck, said. "My children were six rows in front of me and I could not get to them. I truly thought …we were going down."

Flight attendants bumped heads, drinks were spilled and luggage spilled into the aisles as terrified passengers braced for what they thought was the end.

"The plane took a sudden jump in altitude where we were lifted from our seats. The entire cabin was screaming and crying," Dunnabeck said. "The flight attendants were in seatbelts. They were hitting their heads on the ceiling, but we were constantly going up and down off our seats."

The FAA says the skydiving plane was flying under Visual Flight Rules, which means pilots are responsible for seeing and avoiding other aircraft.

Dunnabeck says she and her daughters deserve answers about what went wrong in the sky.

"What happened to me and my family and the other passengers on that flight should never have happened," she said.

After the dive, the pilot announced to passengers that a "flight control issue" led to the maneuver.

"I told him, 'I said god bless you,' but I was never able to get his name and I really wish that I could have because if he is the one that saved everyone on that plane, he deserves to be rewarded," Maschke said.

ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.