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Passengers survive chaotic turbulence

BILLINGS, Mont. — A crew member remained hospitalized Tuesday after violent turbulence triggered what one passenger called ‘‘pandemonium’’ aboard a United Airlines flight into Billings and sent passengers and crew flying through the cabin, according to company representatives and a man who was on board.

Ejay Old Bull said drinks had just been served and passengers were moving around the cabin on the flight from Denver when the plane started to lurch violently with no prior warning, approximately 55 minutes into the hour-and-a-half flight.

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‘‘It was a solid 20 seconds of pandemonium,’’ said Old Bull, a 26-year-old graduate student who was returning to school at Billings’s Rocky Mountain College. ‘‘What really hurt people and what really got everyone panicked was when the plane tipped to the right and dropped for about four or five seconds. That’s when people started praying.’’

Old Bull said he watched his unrestrained seatmate crash headfirst into the overhead luggage bin and briefly lose consciousness. Meanwhile, a crew member was bouncing around in the galley just behind his seat, Old Bull said.

Federal safety officials said they were looking into the incident, which left three crew members and two passengers injured.

No details were available on the condition of the crew member who remained hospitalized. United spokeswoman Christen David said an airline supervisor was by her side at the hospital.

The Boeing 737-300 involved has been taken out of service while the airline reviews what happened, David said.

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