SHU professor experiences turbulence on flight

Maureen Kochanek, assistant professor of art at Seton Hill University, poses during her trip to Greece. Photo courtesy of M.Kochanek.

An American Airlines flight from Greece to Philadelphia experienced severe turbulence on Aug. 5. Maureen Kochanek, assistant professor of art at SHU and who many students formerly know as Vissat, was aboard the plane. Kochanek frequently travels, and said that she has been “overseas probably 30 to 40 times.”

“I’ve hit turbulence before,” she said. “This was not turbulence.”

Passengers on Flight 759 had just finished up a meal when the pilot came over the loudspeaker asking them to fasten their seat belts. The plane then felt like it “dropped 100 feet like straight down.” Kochanek had on her seat belt, but others were not so lucky.

The plane carried 287 passengers and 12 crew members total. At least 10 people were injured, including seven staff members and three passengers. All have since been released from the hospital.

First responders were on the scene when the flight landed. Photo from Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Theil.

“Surreal is the best way to describe it,” said Kochanek. “It was like special effects slow motion in a movie.” Food, drinks and personal items flew through the air. “We were going down. There were people screaming, babies crying. It was about 20 seconds, but that felt like forever, then it stopped.”

The plane proceeded to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, where it arrived about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Kochanek said that “firetrucks and ambulances encircled the plane” and that “doctors and paramedics jumped on.”

“It was intensely chaotic,” said Kochanek. “The plane was trashed.”

Many factors play into what can cause turbulence, including air pressure, storms, temperature or moving over a mountain or other landform. There are two different types of turbulence: clear air and convective. Convective turbulence occurs from something you can see, such as a storm, while clear air is more unexpected and invisible.

Coffee, wine and food covered the plane’s interior. Photo from Ervin Fang, a doctor aboard the flight.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 44 travellers in the United States were injured during a turbulent flight in 2016. This number of injuries is relatively small being that the average number of domestic or international passengers who fly per day is 2,586,582. A majority of those injuries come from not wearing a seat belt.

Kochanek was on vacation in Greece. She visited Athens and Crete to study the Palace of Knossos and other historical landmarks. However, this flight hasn’t affected how Kochanek is going to travel.

“I’m already planning my next trip,” said Kochanek. “I want see things and learn. It feeds me. I’m sincerely grateful for my life.”

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