NEW YORK (CNN) – At 30,000 feet above the ground, chaos ensued inside American Airlines Flight 280; flying in December of 2014 from South Korea to Dallas. When the Boeing 777 dropped suddenly over Japan, passengers panicked and pulled out their cell phones to record the drama.
Marc Stanley said, “All of the sudden there was just this big drop and food and plates and service and materials, my iPhone; just everything flying all over the place.”
Some screamed and others prayed as the plane rocked. Wine splashed on the overhead bins, food and trash spilled into the aisles. The plane made an emergency landing in Tokyo; five people were taken to the hospital.
If the passengers and crew hadn’t been wearing their seatbelts, it could’ve been much worse. According to the FAA, each year approximately 58 people in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts.
Between 1980 and 2008, the FAA recorded three fatalities; finding that two of the three were not wearing seat belts even though the seat belt light was illuminated.
In 2013, a Singapore Airline Flight from Singapore to London hit terrible turbulence just as flight attendants were serving breakfast. Immediately, the fasten seat belt sign was turned on. The plane reportedly dropped 65 feet, injuring 11 passengers and one crew member.
Food flew, coffee hit the ceiling, and one passenger told reporters anything that wasn’t tied down hit the ceiling as the plane dropped. Alan Cross said, “Suddenly it felt like we were in an elevator and somebody had cut the cable.”
When Asiana Flight 214 crash landed in San Francisco in July of 2013, two passengers were ejected from the plane. It was later discovered they were not wearing their seat belts.
Both died, though one of them, 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, actually survived the crash only to be run over by an emergency vehicle responding to the scene. Justin Green, the family’s lawyer, said, “The tire of the truck rolled right over her head.”
The NTSB found that had the two passengers who were thrown from the plane been wearing their seat belts, they likely would have remained inside the plane, and survived.
Seat belts may help passengers survive, but in some cases they can trap them in their seats. On Wednesday, a Transasia Airways plane crashed into the river shortly after takeoff in Taipei.
With the cabin already chest deep in water, rescue crews found passengers tangled in their seat belts, hanging upside down. One 72-year-old man said he helped save four lives by undoing seat belts. He says they would’ve been dead if hadn’t moved quickly.