Date: 19th December, 1997
Type: 747
Registration: -
Operator: United Airlines
Where: Pacific Ocean
Report No.: Not Available
Report Date: -
Pages: -

This is not an accident investigation report.

TOKYO, Japan - A United Airlines jumbo jet with 393 people aboard hit massive air turbulence over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday night, killing one Japanese woman and injuring 110 other passengers.

Passengers and serving carts were flung to the ceiling as the plane dived 300 metres (1,000 feet) when it flew into the killer turbulence at 33,000 feet (10,000 metres).

Officials at Narita, Tokyo's main international airport, said the incident happened just after passengers had finished eating a meal two hours after the Boeing 747 left the airport at 9.05 p.m (1205 GMT).

Flight 826, bound for Honolulu with 374 passengers and 19 crew members aboard, flew back safely to Narita, landing at 2.25 a.m. (1725 GMT).

The accident took place over the northern Pacific about 1,800 km (1,100 miles) east of Narita. ``We have just hit air turbulence and the aircraft descended 300 metres. There is no danger of a crash,'' the pilot told panicked passengers on the plane's intercom.

A passenger video taken of the interior of the plane and shown on Japanese television showed screaming passengers being flung around the cabin and oxygen masks hanging from the ceiling.

Meals littered the cabin and the ceiling was damaged.

An Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) spokesman in Washington said the ``Fasten Seat Belt'' sign was on but preliminary reports indicated some people were moving about the cabin.

``Our preliminary information is that United Airlines Flight 826 encountered severe turbulence at 33,000 feet (10,000 metres) and returned to Tokyo's Narita airport,'' he said.

A United Airlines spokesman said 10 of the 374 passengers were injured seriously enough to remain in hospital. Nine of the 19 crew members also were hurt.

``The seat belt sign was on when the plane was hit by severe turbulence,'' spokesman Tony Molinari said. ``There had to be folks who weren't belted.''

The pilot decided to return to Tokyo because of the injuries on board, he said.

``The serving carts were thrown to the ceiling and then crashed back down on us,'' a passenger said.

``Bang. People without seat belts were thrown out of their seats,'' another passenger said.

Ambulances and fire engines stood by as the aircraft touched down.

The officials said a 32-year-old Japanese female passenger died and 110 other passengers were injured, some of them seriously. The injured were rushed to hospitals near Narita airport.

The dead passenger was flung to the ceiling and died shortly after she was taken to hospital.

Passengers with broken limbs, neck injuries and bloodied faces were helped off the airliner.

Most passengers were Japanese holidaymakers who were planning to spend the New Year holiday in Hawaii.

The FAA spokesman said that while Japanese authorities would handle the formal investigation, the FAA would look at the incident ``because we're always interested in turbulence issues and whether procedures were followed.''

The plane's flight data recorders will be returned as soon as possible to the National Transportation Safety Board's laboratory in Washington for analysis.

An NTSB spokesman said the so-called ``black boxes'' could possibly provide useful information about the incident and how it was handled by the crew.