What could have been another frightening plane story has reportedly turned out to be an honest mistake. Fourteen minutes into its flight, an Alaska Airlines plane was forced to emergency land at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after a pilot heard screaming and banging from underneath the aircraft. That noise was from a plane worker in the cargo area who fell asleep before Flight 448 took off, according to a statement from the airline. The incident is a reminder of the increased anxiety over plane security in recent months.
Alaska Airlines released updated statements detailing the cargo incident. Shortly after taking off from Seattle at 2:39 p.m., the captain of the L.A.-bound plane reported hearing banging from below the aircraft. The pilot immediately returned to Seattle and declared an emergency for priority landing. After the plane landed, a ramp agent was found inside the front cargo hold, which is pressurized and temperature controlled.
As he walked off the plane, he reportedly told authorities he had fallen asleep, the airline's statement said. The worker "appeared OK" but was taken to a hospital as a precaution. He was released at around 4:45 p.m., TV station KIRO 7 reported. According to Alaska Airlines, the worker had been part of a four-person team loading baggage onto the plane. The employee's shift began at 5 a.m., and he was scheduled to finish at 2:30 p.m. It was during a pre-departure huddle that the team leader noticed he 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.
In its statement, the airlines acknowledged the incident and said it would continue to actively investigate the matter. The employee works for Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation and passed a drug test Monday afternoon.
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.
In recent months, there's been heightened anxiety over plane security, particularly with the Germanwings plane whose co-pilot, investigators said, deliberately crashed in the French Alps last month, as well as the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that mysteriously disappeared while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur more than a year ago. Thankfully no one was reported injured on the Alaska Airlines flight, which carried 170 passengers and six crew members, and the plane eventually arrived in Los Angeles after an 80-minute delay.