Frantic pounding from the floor of a plane as it climbed towards cruising altitude after about 15 minutes of flight turned out to be a baggage handler trapped in the cargo hold.
The worker had dozed off and gone to sleep in there.
The pilot of Alaska Airlines flight 448 from Seattle to Los Angeles, with 170 passengers and six crew aboard, declared an emergency, turned back and made a priority landing at Seattle.
The pilot was alerted by the sound of banging “from beneath the aircraft”, an Alaska Airlines statement confirmed.
As the baggage handler emerged blinking from the pressurised hold, he said he had fallen asleep.
Alaska Airlines is “actively investigating the matter”.
One passenger, Marty Collins, told a local Seattle TV station passengers had not heard the banging, the BBC reported. Only the pilot had heard it.
Passengers were told the flight had to return as there was someone in the cargo hold.
After the flight (generally operated using a B737-900) later left for Los Angeles, Alaska Airlines issued the following statement:
A ramp employee who fell asleep in the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines aircraft has been discharged from the hospital. The employee, who works for Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, passed a drug test this afternoon.
The agent had been on a four-person team loading baggage onto Flight 448, which departed for Los Angeles at 2:39 p.m. The aircraft returned to Seattle after 14 minutes in flight when the captain heard banging beneath the aircraft.
After the landing, the employee, who was in a pressurized, temperature-controlled portion of the cargo hold, walked off the aircraft. He told authorities he had fallen asleep.
The employee started work at 5 a.m. and was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m. During a pre-departure huddle, the team lead noticed the employee was missing. The team lead called into the cargo hold for the employee and called and texted the employee’s cell phone, but did not receive an answer. His co-workers believed he finished his shift and went home.
All ramp employees have security badges. They undergo full criminal background checks and drug screening prior to being hired. They are also subjected to random drug tests throughout their employment.
There were 170 passengers and six crew members on Flight 448. The aircraft landed in Los Angeles at 6:17 p.m.
Written by : Peter Needham