What is the science behind turbulence and can planes handle it?

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - On Monday morning a Frontier Airlines flight leaving Las Vegas, heading for Cleveland, had to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City after passengers say extreme turbulence caused medical situations.

Passengers were then reloaded and continued on to Cleveland.

Jamie Lebovitz is an attorney and aviation expert in Cleveland and explains the science behind turbulence.

"Turbulence is basically the movement of air in the atmosphere much like the movement of water as a boat or ship travels across a body of water," says Lebovitz. "Think of the wake which is created behind a boat or ship as it moves across the water. It is no different with an aircraft when encounters changes in the movement of air in the atmosphere."

The passengers say the extreme turbulence happened right after takeoff and described it as the plane tipping side to side.

One passenger says it felt so bad she wondered if the plane was going to flip.

"Extreme or heavy turbulence would feel very very uncomfortable. Rollercoaster-like and feeling of weightlessness and nausea and loss of balance sensation," says Lebovitz. "Moderate and light turbulence would be like going over very bumpy and uneven terrain. Any form of turbulence would give one a sense of loss of control and the more extreme it is the more alarming it becomes."

Lebovitz says Vegas presents its own set of unique problems.

"For instance, in Las Vegas, Nevada where the ground heats up significantly in hot weather, the ground will often heat up unevenly causing thermal updrafts. Additionally, since Las Vegas is in an area of mountainous terrain, the air masses move unevenly and can oftentimes create conditions for turbulence."

Some of the passengers chose not to get back on the flight in Salt Lake City fearing for the condition of the plane and their safety.

"As far as the airplanes themselves are concerned, aircraft manufacturers must perform rigorous stress test everything from air frames and wings to demonstrate to the FAA that the airplane can withstand the most extreme form of turbulence which passenger aircraft will never encounter and remain intact."

While Frontier has not confirmed what medical issues or injuries were sustained on Monday's flight Lebovitz says by keeping your seat belt on at all times can protect passengers.

"Regardless of the intensity of turbulence, airline passengers are safe so long as they are seat belted in their seats at all times which as anyone who is traveling on an airplane in recent years knows that despite the seat belt sign coming off flight cruise always advise passengers in their seats to keep their seat belts on," advises Lebovitz.

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