Ramp Worker Trapped in Jet Baggage Hold Spurs Emergency Landing

An Alaska Airlines jet took off from Seattle with a ramp agent still in the baggage hold, forcing an emergency landing after the man’s frantic banging alerted the crew to the error.

Flight 448 bound for Los Angeles from Seattle was airborne for about 14 minutes, the carrier said in a statement Monday. The worker “told authorities he had fallen asleep” inside the pressurized and temperature-controlled front luggage hold, according to Alaska, a unit of Alaska Air Group Inc.

“The ramp agent appeared OK and was transported to the hospital as a precaution,” Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said. “We are actively investigating the matter.”

The worker’s ability to doze off unnoticed in the Boeing Co. 737 jet’s belly during loading spotlighted the industry’s quest to improve on the reliability of employees as well as aircraft. Even with a highly trained captain on the Germanwings jet that crashed last month in France, investigators suspect the co-pilot steered the plane into an Alpine slope while the pilot left the cockpit.

Alaska Airlines didn’t identify the trapped worker beyond saying he was a contract employee for Menzies Aviation. The company, a unit of John Menzies Plc in the U.K., provides passenger, ramp and cargo handling services at 149 airports in 32 countries, according to its website. Dave Shedden, a spokesman, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

While a controlled climate in the 737’s hold would have prevented lethal conditions -- Alaska Airlines does take pets checked in crates -- the carrier’s account of the “banging” for help signaled the terrifying nature of the situation. The jet was set to fly at 35,000 feet (10,700 meters).

A flight track compiled by FlightAware showed the 737 departing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the south to Los Angeles, then circling back to the north to return to the traffic pattern.

The captain declared “an emergency for priority landing,” Alaska Airlines said. The worker “walked off the aircraft” afterward, the carrier said.

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