Local family survives rollercoaster-like flight

August 4, 2009 3:18:27 AM PDT
It was a frightening flight for the nearly 180 people onboard Continental Airlines Flight 128 Monday morning. The plane hit turbulence so severe that it threw passengers and flight attendants up against the roof. At least 26 people were hurt and many of them had to be taken to hospitals.

The Boeing 767 was coming to Houston from Rio De Janeiro and was supposed to arrive here at 6am. After hitting the turbulence, it was diverted to Miami International Airport. By Monday afternoon, some Houston passengers had made it home.

Fabio Ottolini says he was returning from a visit with his family in Brazil. His wife Caroline and daughter Sophia were by his side and about six hours into the flight he was brought to his knees.

"I just grabbed the tray and then the second one came. And the second one was the devastating one. That's when the plane really fell," said Fabio.

Fabio describes it as if they were on a rollercoaster.

"While it was doing that, I saw people being thrown to the roof as if they were dolls," said Fabio.

The Houstonian says he has a few scratches, but his family is fortunate.

"Thanks to God. My wife was able to hold her (my daughter) while it was happening," Fabio said.

Others were not so lucky.

"Lots of people had back pain, lots of people with cuts on their foreheads. One woman looked as if e she'd been punched in the face," said Fabio.

And it was two hours before they landed in Miami for help.

"That was pure terror. I could easily say those were the worst two hours of my life," said Fabio.

The family of three was relieved to be back at their west Houston home Monday night. The husband and father hopes there is at least one thing people remember from his story

"I think the most important thing about this whole episode is seat belts, all the time," he said. "Because we have no way to predict what happened. It just happened."

He said he normally wears his seatbelt, but he had just gotten out of his seat to get a pen to fill out a customs form.

Eyewitness News also spoke with another passenger of Continental Flight 128 who was among the first to make it to Houston.

"Oh, I was scared man," said Thiago Candido. "I was sleeping and I woke up with my head in the ceiling. I didn't know what was going on."

Candido, 13, was flying alone and told us he thought the plane was going to crash.

"I thought the plane was falling, just like a big earthquake, but in the air," he said. "It's weird."

The teen told his mother he bumped his head and got sick during the severe turbulence which the Boeing 767 encountered this morning about 50 miles north of the Dominican Republic.

In all, 26 people were injured, four seriously. The plane made an emergency landing in Miami, where passengers were treated for their injuries.

Candido and his mother, who waited hours for him at the airport with one of her Newborns, are now headed for Louisana. Before they reunited, she told us she just wanted this day to be over.

"I just want to touch him and hug him and know that he's fine," said Rosana Nichols.

The Federal Aviation Administration says turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants in non-fatal accidents. About sixty passengers a year get hurt from incidents relating to turbulence. The main reason for injuries is passengers not wearing their seat belts.

The FAA says generally, two-thirds of turbulence-related accidents occur at or above 30,000 feet when many passengers think it's safe to loosen their seat belt and relax. Monday morning's accident happened when the plane was flying at about 38,000 feet, according to the FAA.

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