"People hit the ceiling": 35 injured when Air Canada flight hits severe turbulence

Atlanta — A long flight across the Pacific took a frightening turn Thursday when the plane hit intense turbulence. More than 30 people were injured as the Boeing 777 was violently shaken.

Passengers described a sudden drop in altitude when the Air Canada jet hit the turbulence 600 miles from Hawaii.

"It just seemed that the plane just sank and then flew up," said passenger Sharon Thornton.

Forced to turn around, the pilots made an emergency landing in Honolulu early this morning, paramedics tended to the nearly three dozen injured passengers. Nine were taken to a nearby hospital.

"A lot of people hit the ceiling, and a lot of screaming," passenger Michael Bailey said.

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Most of the 269 passengers and 15 crew were sleeping on the long haul flight from Vancouver to Sydney, Australia when it happened. 

"Sitting in front of me the girl hit the plastic overhead and actually snapped it and broke it. I think one of the stewards was badly injured when the trolley fell on top of them," Bailey said.

Cases where flyers are severely injured by turbulence are rare. The Federal Aviation Administration said in 2017 it happened to 17 people. Incidents like this are the reason flight crews tell you to keep your seat belt fastened when you're in your seat.

  • Kris Van Cleave

    Kris Van Cleave is the transportation correspondent for CBS News.