jetBlue flight makes emergency landing in Rapid City


RAPID CITY, S.D. – First responders at Rapid City Regional Airport rose to a challenge Thursday night as a cross-country jetBlue flight diverted after hitting severe turbulence. Flight 429 with 146 passengers aboard navigated a line of storms that had passed through East River early Thursday afternoon when it hit the turbulence. Passengers and luggage were thrown about the cabin.

"I felt like I was on the Tower of Terror. We just dropped like that, without a warning," said Eileen Lynch, Flight 429 passenger.

Passengers described the incident as a massive drop, followed by luggage taking flight out of the overhead compartments, while passengers were thrown like rag dolls. Following the incident, pilots made an emergency diversion to Rapid City Regional Airport. The Rapid City Fire Department was on scene, transporting 29 people to Rapid City Regional Hospital, where 24 were treated and released.

"As of 9 a.m. this morning, all of those individuals were discharged from Rapid City Regional Hospital," said Lt. Jim Bussell, RCFD Public Information Officer.

Despite the loss in altitude, the captain of the aircraft has been described as remaining in complete control of the aircraft throughout the whole ordeal, even making sure everyone was taken care of after the plane was on the ground.

"What our crews are telling us, that captain was very much in control of the entire situation, even hours after they landed," said Chief Mike Maltaverne, Rapid City Fire Department.

Light turbulence is not uncommon, but extreme turbulence, while rare, can be potentially very dangerous. Pilots routinely divert around thunderstorms because of the unpredictable winds associated with them.

"These updrafts cause what we call gravity waves to develop,” said Jon Chamberlain, a National Weather Service Meteorologist in Rapid City “These waves of undulating air can actually extend outward from thunderstorms and produce what we call a gravity wave, and those can cause significant upwards and downward motions around thunderstorms."

Although airport emergencies are rare, first responders routinely train for them.

"The FAA requires that we train for events like this. And this is a major win for our customers, the City of Rapid City, and our airport when everyone works together this well,” said Patrick Dame, Rapid City Regional Airport Manager.

jetBlue brought in a replacement aircraft and flew passengers on to Sacramento, arriving there early Friday morning.

A cross-country jetBlue flight made an emergency landing in Rapid City Thursday evening after severe turbulence caused injuries to passengers and members of the flight crew.

According to a jetBlue spokesperson, flight 429 from Boston to Sacramento, Calif. was diverted to Rapid City Regional Airport, landing at around 7:30 p.m. 29 passengers and crew members were transported to Rapid City Regional Hospital. Of those transported, 24 people were treated for minor injuries and released.

jetBlue sent care team members to assist the injured. A replacement aircraft arrived overnight to get the passengers to their final destination. As on 9 a.m., the incident aircraft is still at Rapid City Regional Airport.

Responding agencies included the Rapid City Fire Department, Rapid Valley Volunteer Fire Department, and Rapid City Police Department.