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Unforeseen Encounters with Turbulence

Mar 3, 2023 | Crashes, Home

On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, seven passengers aboard Lufthansa flight 469 sustained injuries requiring hospitalization resulting from severe turbulence that the airplane encountered while in cruise flight at 37,000 feet over Tennessee. The flight was enroute from Austin, Texas, to Frankfurt, Germany, when the event occurred, and the captain diverted to Dulles Airport.

Because this was an international flight, the passengers’ legal rights to recover for their personal injuries are subject to international law under the Montreal Accords. The event should be categorized an “accident” because the encounter was foreseeable and avoidable; and, recoveries should not be limited because the airline likely could have taken further steps to avoid the turbulence, regardless of whether it was clear air turbulence or from proximity to thunderstorms.

In-flight turbulence occurs from chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity of air in the atmosphere. If a large mass of air moving at one velocity and at a given atmospheric pressure encounters another mass of air moving at a different velocity and at a different atmospheric pressure, you can expect to encounter turbulent air. The higher the velocities of the masses of air and the greater the differences in atmospheric pressures, the greater the likelihood and severity of the turbulence.

Meteorologists use the Reynolds Factor to predict the probability and severity of turbulence. This is a numeric value, the lower the number, the less chance of turbulence, the higher the number, the greater the chance and severity of turbulence.

Pilots categorize turbulence as light, moderate and severe, based on the range of control input needed to maintain directional control of the airplane. In light turbulence, relatively small amounts of control input are needed, while moderate turbulence requires approximately half the travel of control input and severe turbulence requires full displacement of the airplane’s controls to maintain directional control.

Encounters with moderate and severe turbulence are generally terrifying to passengers and can result in physical injuries, as occurred on Lufthansa flight 469. Katzman, Lampert & Stoll, PLLC has for years represented passengers on domestic and international flights who sustained injuries from an encounter with turbulence.

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