Severe turbulence rocks United jetliner, injuring 5

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Severe turbulence during a United Airlines flight from Denver to Billings, Mont., sent five people to hospitals in Montana on Monday, the airline said. 

Three crew members and two passengers were injured as the turbulence hit the plane, the carrier said, adding that by Monday night, all had been released except for a flight attendant.

The captain declared a medical emergency as the Boeing 737 approached Billings, the Federal Aviation Administration said. 

Flight 1676 left Denver International Airport around noon and landed without incident just before 1:30 p.m. at Billings Logan International Airport, the FAA and the airline said.

There were 114 passengers and five crew members aboard, United said.

Emergency crews and the Billings airport fire department responded.

Passenger Bill Dahlin told CBS Billings affiliate KTVQ-TV the plane dropped sharply, without warning from the crew, as it began its decent into Billings.

"There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hollering," Dahlin told the station.

He said the crew was just as surprised as the passengers at the sudden drop.

"I think they were somewhat panicked," Dahlin said. "I think they were trying to assess things themselves so they really didn't offer any explanation because of what happened so quickly."

He said one woman hit the ceiling so hard it cracked the panel above her head.

"I have flown a lot, and I do know you run into things like this," Dahlin said. "This [turbulence] happened to be a lot rougher than what I'm accustomed to."

Dahlin says he wasn't hurt.

Two other passengers, Laurel Linde and her son Grant, were traveling back home to Billings from football camp and called the experience terrifying.

Grant Linde told KTVQ he felt the plane suddenly "kind of bank to the right and then it felt like we got hit from the bottom."

"I was scared," Linde said. "It was really scary for me."

And once the plane landed, passengers were left with more questions than answers.

"Nobody was really expecting, and I do mean nobody," Grant's mother Laurel, told the station. "I think the flight crew was probably in the same boat we were."

Passenger Joe Frank, 20, told The Denver Post in an email that the plane dropped violently and he heard a loud bang. He said a baby was propelled out of a parent's arms and landed in a seat nearby, but the infant didn't appear to be hurt. 

"I didn't have my seat belt on, so I hit my head pretty hard but what hurts is my lower back and hips," he told the newspaper. He said he was heading from a visit to Texas back home to Billings.