A flight attendant for Southwest Airlines suffered a broken back after a particularly hard landing on a California runway last month, officials have confirmed.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told The Associated Press that the landing at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana on July 1 left none of the other 141 passengers injured, but that the flight attendant suffered a compression fracture to a vertebra in her upper back upon touchdown.
The NTSB also said the landing of the plane was so hard the employee thought the plane had crashed.
An investigation into the landing culminated last Friday, with the board reporting that the pilots — a 55-year-old captain and 49-year-old copilot — had aimed for the normal touchdown zone on the relatively short runway.
While they did not say what caused such a hard landing, they did confirm that the attendant was sitting in the 18-year-old Boeing 737-700 jump seat at the back of the plane when the incident occurred and felt pain in her back and neck shortly after and was unable to move.
The runway that the plane landed on is only 1,700 metres. (By comparison, runways at nearby Los Angeles International Airport range between 2,700 and nearly 3,900 metres.)
According to the Dallas Morning Star, it’s a rare injury aboard a commercial aircraft. The outlet reports that there were only two serious injury reports in the U.S. in 2020 and that most onboard injuries occur as staff and passengers are walking around in the plane, often during unexpected turbulence.
Dallas-based Southwest said in a statement Monday: “We reported the matter to the NTSB in accordance with regulatory requirements and conducted an internal review of the event.”
The Morning Star also reports that planes flying out of John Wayne Airport are required to climb steeply after takeoff to adhere with noise restrictions, but there are no rules in place for landing.