An Alaska Airlines flight that had just departed from Sea-Tac Airport returned to the airport after pilots heard a person banging on the cargo compartment Monday afternoon.
Alaska Flight 448 to Los Angeles returned to the airport after only 14 minutes in the air to investigate the noise from the forward cargo hold beneath the plane’s passenger compartment. Air traffic controllers gave the pilots priority over other flights to get the plane back on the ground, the airline said.
Rescue workers and airline officials discovered a baggage handler, an employee of Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, in the cargo compartment when they opened its door. The compartment is both pressurized and temperature controlled, said an airline spokesman.
The worker told investigators he had fallen asleep in the compartment.
Both airline and airport officials were investigating the incident. The compartment carries luggage and cargo.
The trapped worker was taken to a hospital to be checked. He was able to walk away from the aircraft under his own power after the cargo door was opened.
Passenger Marty Collins told KOMO-TV that the flight was surrounded by emergency vehicles when it returned to the airport.
She said passengers did not hear the worker banging or making noise.
“Nobody on the plane heard anything like that, nobody knew why we were turning around,” she told the station. “They just said we were fine and we weren’t in any danger.”
Passengers were later told about the situation.
“They just said there was someone in the cargo hold and he’s been escorted off and taken away,” she said.
Flight passenger Jesse Sycuro told KING-TV that passengers in first class “heard banging from underneath us and a person yelling for help.”
According to Sycuro, two air marshals jumped up and spoke with a flight attendant, who alerted the pilot.
“And shortly after that, we heard the announcement that the plane was going to be turned around,” Sycuro told KING-TV. “The banging continued for quite a while we were circling. … Air marshals banged back down trying to communicate with the person in the hold and yelling down that we were landing.”
The flight departed again at 3:52 p.m. and landed in Los Angeles about 6:30, around 80 minutes late, according to the airline’s website.