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Woman Paralyzed From Airplane Turbulence

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 3:09 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Spinal Cord Injury, Broken Neck, Air Turbulence, Airlines, Flight Safety, Mass Transit, Airline Passenger Safety

Air turbulence causes one woman in the rest room of a Continental flight to break her neck. She is undergoing surgery.

Woman Paralyzed From Airplane Turbulence

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IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ interior of Continental 737/ author: World Aviation Group

 

You’ve seen the warning lights in the airplane bathrooms - “Return to your Seat”-  during times of turbulence during a flight.  A Texas woman didn’t heed the warning and now is suffering the effects of a broken neck suffered during her Saturday morning flight. 

"She is paralyzed from the nipples to her toes," said Dr. Trey Fulp, to ABC News. He is the spinal surgeon who will perform a second operation today on the passenger at the McAllen Medical Center in McAllen, Tex. He describes the injury as a “hangman’s fracture” as it is the result of a neck break from people who hang themselves.

Another woman was also injured during the turbulence as was one crew member aboard the Continental flight 511 from Houston to McAllen.

The 47-year-old unidentified woman was thrown into the ceiling during turbulence. The break occurred at the thoracic level, reports ABC News between the C1 and C2 vertebrae in her neck. 

That is the same injury that paralyzed Christopher Reeve when he fell off a horse in 1995.

The woman was also thrown against the toilet, which reportedly broke her back.  She underwent six hours of surgery Monday and was scheduled for additional neck surgery today.

Her surgeon tells ABC News that the speed with which she was operated on might aid in her recovery.   It is unclear whether she will ever be able to walk again. She was able to wiggle her toes this morning.    

Storms had been reported in the Houston area before the flight which had to be delayed several hours.  The Boeing 737 carried 104 passengers and five crew members. #


18 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Matilda
Thursday, April 23, 2009 5:28 PM EST

Do you think Flight Attendants tell you to stay seated with your seatbelt fastened just to hear themselves talk?

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, April 23, 2009 5:32 PM EST

This is so important to stay belted.

And from personal experience, I believe babies should also be belted into their own airplane-approved baby seats at all times and NOT sit on their parents laps.

There is no way a well-meaning parent can protect their child in turbulence.

Anonymous User
Posted by MCI
Thursday, April 23, 2009 11:23 PM EST

Since 911- Not only have Flight Attendant lost their income for the risks they take every time they fly, but passengers have become rude and non-compliant when it come to F/A who are trying to inforce FAR's-The safest place to be on an airplane is in your seat. Use the restroom before you get on the airplane so you can wait to reach a comfortable cruising attitude, before getting up. My prayers are with this passenger...Who will have a long road of rehabilitation.

Anonymous User
Posted by rob
Saturday, April 25, 2009 7:02 AM EST

As unfortunate as this injury is, I really have little sympathy for this noncompliant passenger. I have worked for the airlines over 29years and have seen some of the UGLIEST, RUDEST behavior from people once they come onboard an aircraft. (And they wonder why everyone isn't so thrilled when they arrive?!) The travelling public feels "entitled" to Do what they want, when they want, and IF they feel like it and the hell with everyone else. If you want to see how cooperative the general masses are.....observe an EXIT ROW BRIEFING on your next flight. These briefings ARE REQUIRED and to see the nonsense that goes on and back talk given to a Crew member doing there job is utterly shocking. So as far as this injured passenger all I can ask "Did You really have to Go that badly?".

Anonymous User
Posted by pat
Sunday, April 26, 2009 5:14 PM EST

Having been injured myself in turbulence as a working crew member, I am constantly amazed at the people who fail to heed our verbal warnings and the written Federal regulations posted at their seat. People have been killed in turbulence by broken necks, children have been ripped from the grip of their parents and small children ( that the parent can't or won't control, i.e. make them stay in their seat belt) have been thrown about. Turbulence is NOT always predictable in advance, but many a Captain knows the weather enroute and uses the 'SEAT BELT' sign accordingly. Passengers need to follow the rules and words from the people in the know.

Anonymous User
Posted by Avenger
Sunday, April 26, 2009 6:51 PM EST

No doubt this woman eventually will sue the airline, the FAA, the origination and destination airports and anyone else she or her dirtbag attorney can think to sue

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, April 27, 2009 12:50 PM EST

Thanks for your comments Avenger.

I wonder if you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice, let's say the surgeon cut off the wrong leg; or you're on an airport van that had never been maintained and it crashed; or maybe the airline had fired all of its mechanics and your loved one lost their life in a plane crash; perhaps a drug company knew their drug would kill people but in the short run it would be a blockbuster and make a billion dollars.

Are you saying you would not sue under those circumstances? What is you line to holding people accountable? Or do you believe that corporations never harm people for the bottom line, and others always do their utmost for the public good and safety?

I suspect you use the colorful, derogatory phrase until you need an attorney. PS- I'm not one.

Seriously - even those who agree with Avenger- is there a line you would cross and seek out an attorney, or never. Just asking.

Posted by Darren Wilson
Monday, April 27, 2009 3:35 PM EST

This is a sad case that should serve as a reminder to all of us that when the captain turns on the "fasten seatbelt" sign, we should sit down and wait unless it is an emergency. I know I have ignored it despite having experienced sever turbulence at other times. I hope she recovers.

Anonymous User
Posted by Chrys
Monday, April 27, 2009 7:05 PM EST

Avenger is being understandably cynical. Morally, she has no call to sue, but what does she have to lose by trying? I have no doubt loads of ambulance chaser attorneys have offered to take her case. I expect Avenger is right: she'll end up suing, and Continental will find it cheaper to just pay her off rather than go through the whole litigation process. Sad, but that's business.

Anonymous User
Posted by jan
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:14 PM EST

WOW..THIS IS VERY UNFORTUNATE. AND I'M SURE IT COULD'VE BEEN AVOIDED AS WELL. I'VE WORKED FOR THE AIRLINES, FOR THE PAST 10 YRS. AND I LOVE MY JOB! BUT THE TOTAL LACK OF RESPECT OF SOME OF THE PAX'S WE SERVE. IS SAD.I MYSELF HAVE REPEATED OUR REQUIRED ANNOUNCEMENT'S. OVER AND OVER DURING MOST OF THE FLT. DURING TURBULENT TIME'S WHERE AS THE PILOT HAS ASKED THE FLT ATTND'S TO BE SEATED. SO IF THE PILOT HAS ASKED OR BETTER YET. TOLD US TO BE SEATED. Y WOULDN'T THE PAX THINK IT WAS FOR THERE OWN SAFETY AND THE SAFETY OF THERE FELLOW PAX'S TO REMAIN IN THERE SEAT AS WELL..IM TRULY SORRY FOR THESE PAX'S UNFORTUNANTE ACCIDENT'S..BUT WE AS FLT CREW ARE THERE TO ASSIST IN EMERGENCIES,AND TO DO AS MUCH AS WE POSSIBLY CAN TO MAKE OUR PAX'S COMFORTABLE ON OUR FLT'S..WERE NOT JUST THERE TO SERVE BEVERAGE'S...THANK U...

Anonymous User
Posted by _
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:57 AM EST

Jane Akre- I am an attorney and even I would use that "colorful, derogatory phrase" for any attorney who would sue on behalf of this woman. Suing for malpractice is one thing, but I challenge you to find a "malpractice" situation on that plane. What in the world does the airline have to be held accountable for? It cannot control turbulence, and it sounds as if they complied with all their standards. How about the woman holds herself accountable for her own actions and owns up to her tragic and unfortunate mistake.

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:35 PM EST

Hello anonymous -

I think I've been misunderstood.

I was addressing the blanket assertion that people sue for no reason. While this case may or may not have merit, I was not defending a lawsuit in this instance, but rather asking Avenger if there would be any situation in which they would seek the services of a ** attorney. I never received an answer.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
Jane Akre

Posted by Joseph L Walsh
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 2:05 PM EST

There are always going to be injury cases that are fake or should not be presented. With that said, there are going to be the definitive cases that require an attorney and possible time in court. In these unfortunate cases, the injured needs assistance to receive the care they deserve.

Anonymous User
Posted by Carol
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:34 PM EST

I applaud the attorney who is defending the airline. After 3 back surgeries from unexpected turbulence I didn't hold my employer "the airline" responsible. Listen to the announcements they clearly state "in case of unexpected turbulence". I am saddened for the lady who got hurt but folks when is enough enough? The airline did what they were supposed to do, she did not!!! If a zookeeper tells you not to pet the tiger is it his fault when you do and get eaten alive? Your bad, and to sue for your own blatten disobedience is no ones fault but yours. Rules are in place for a reason.....

Anonymous User
Posted by Michelle
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 11:20 PM EST

I wonder if the FAA is going to slap her with a fine for breaking a FAR written law? Why should the airline pay for an injury that the pax received when she broke the law at her own discretion....Dateline, 20/20, somebody! Do a documentary on what can happen to someone during turbulence on an aircraft! Maybe people would realize the seatbelt sign is on FOR A REASON. The pilots get reports of upcoming turbulence and they control the seatbelt sign. If you don't end up getting into some, THANK GOD!

Anonymous User
Posted by halen
Thursday, May 28, 2009 6:48 PM EST

A woman gets on an airline and gets off paralyzed. Of course she should sue! Clearly she did not understand the eminent danger posed to her from this turbulence, which is a systematic failure of all airlines, some going as far as to sing the instructions/warnings in a cute song. If other people were injured as well, than perhaps the pilot should have changed course if he was hitting such severe turbulance. Are you suggesting that they couldn't use different materials in the bathroom, perhaps padding the ceiling for example, that could have prevented this? Please, I have no sympathy for these companies maximizing coroporate profit at the expense of innocent (or possibly not so innoncent in this case) consumers. At the very least, the airline should pay for her long term care.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jawbone
Thursday, June 04, 2009 11:06 AM EST

Halen,

She got on the airplane and was fine, we have defined that so far. She got off the airplane paralyzed, we know that too. What caused that mishap? Ok, lets answer that - her own personal decision making, nothing the airline, or the corporation can control. They put these rules in place for a reason. If there is turbulence which passenger in there right mind would get up and walk around the cabin and go use the bathroom, sounds like the woman had no common sense. I don't feel sorry for people like this who now thinks there entitled to a free lunch. You sound like your jealous about corporations turning a profit, keep in mind that is what all business is in for, making money...not giving out free lunches. There are rules, follow them or get hurt, easy as that.

Anonymous User
Posted by Halen
Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:38 PM EST

Jawbone,

I have no problem with corporations turning profit. I have no disagreement with you there. If you reread my post, I talk about ‘maximizing’ profit at the expense of the consumer. If car manufacturers or toy companies release a product that is unsafe, they are typically forced to recall those products. I guess if they just put a disclaimer on a car that says, “Drive at your own risk”, then they should no longer be liable for putting out any unsafe products. I suppose you would say that it would be an unfair financial burden for a company to recall these cars and actually release a safe product. Clearly this bathroom on this airplane was not engineered with safety as a major concern. In addition, other people who were wearing their seatbelts were also injured on this flight, granted not as severely. You talk about the common sense of this poor woman, what about the common sense of the pilot? When people that are following your ‘rules’ are still getting hurt, than perhaps there is a collective failure of the airline, and not solely that of the individual. I didn’t say she should win the lottery, I just said that her long term care should be paid for. I’m not for free lunches, I’m simply for paying for someone’s service and not coming away paralyzed from it. The airline clearly failed this woman.

Comments for this article are closed.

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