Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Extreme turbulence led Edmonton-Mexico flight to make emergency landing

A Boeing 737 jetliner belonging to Sunwing Airlines takes off from Calgary.

LARRY MacDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A flight heading from Edmonton to Mexico with 181 passengers and six crew members aboard made an emergency medical landing Sunday in western Montana after encountering extreme turbulence that slightly injured two flight attendants.

Sunwing Airlines spokeswoman Janine Chapman says the Boeing 737 landed around 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Helena Regional Airport, a small hub unaccustomed to dealing with international travellers. Flight 559's passengers waited in the aircraft for more than five hours before being told to stay in a cordoned-off area in the terminal as the company dispatched another plane to continue the journey. The passengers got on the second plane and took off for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, around 6:25 p.m. (MT), airport officials said.

Chapman said a medical team cleared a 27-year-old male flight attendant who received a cut on his head during the turbulence, but didn't need stitches. He was in an aisle serving passengers when the turbulence hit.

Story continues below advertisement

As a precaution, responders also checked on a 27-year-old female flight attendant, who was also serving passengers and fell to the floor, Chapman said. The medical team prescribed over-the-counter pain medication.

Chapman said the captain had the seat belt sign on, and no passengers were injured.

Cathy Burden of Edmonton was among the mostly families and couples travelling from Edmonton to the Mexican resort town for vacation. She said the turbulence was "pretty scary."

"The flight attendant was just bringing a tray of champagne, and she went up in the air and the champagne went everywhere," she told The Associated Press. "Nobody actually got a glass, but we all got champagne on us."

She said she saw the flight attendant fall to the ground, but didn't see anyone on board with serious injuries. She said everyone was "a bit rattled."

After landing in Helena, the state's capital, passengers waited for hours on the tarmac because a customs agent couldn't immediately get to the airport.

Helena Regional Airport Director Ron Mercer said the airport has one agent who wasn't available Sunday, so another one made the 90-minute drive from Great Falls.

Story continues below advertisement

He said the airport doesn't typically deal with international commercial flights, so the customs agent had to make sure international rules were followed before the passengers could get off the plane.

They exited into a secure area of the terminal, where the passengers had access to food and restrooms but couldn't leave the area. Chapman said allowing them to wander the terminal would have caused problems when it came to resuming their journey because they're international travellers.

Nonetheless, she said, "I'm told they [the passengers] were in reasonably good spirits and happy to be on the ground."

Another aircraft was sent from the company's headquarters in Toronto to pick up the passengers so the initial plane could be examined for damage, Chapman said, a move she called customary after severe turbulence is encountered.

The aircraft hit the rough patch northwest of Helena, somewhere over the Continental Divide, Mercer said.

The second jet and a new crew arrived in Helena on Sunday evening, and the passengers took off for Mexico.

Story continues below advertisement

"This winter that will not end," Chapman said. "They're attempting to escape it. Hopefully, we'll get them there soon."

With a report from The Canadian Press

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Globe Newsletters

Get a summary of news of the day

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.