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Philly airliner passengers survive bone-rattling turbulence

The FAA said it will investigate a flight to Orlando that was forced to turn around after severe turbulence injured 6.

THERE'S THE turbulence you think you know, the general bumpiness on a flight that makes you look up, briefly, from the latest contraption in SkyMall magazine.

Then there's the kind of turbulence that tossed around Sunday afternoon's US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, where the flight attendants' feet, along with cellphones and children's shoes, are launched a few feet off the floor. Passengers on Flight 735 have a new understanding of turbulence after four of them and two crew members were injured and taken back to Philadelphia.

"I just have such a new appreciation for life. It could have gone either way," passenger Venus DeSue, 55, of Coatesville, said yesterday. "I heard one lady hit her head and cracked the overhead compartment."

Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways/American, said the Airbus A330 departed Philadelphia at 4:17 p.m. Sunday and experienced severe turbulence about 15 to 20 minutes into the flight, somewhere over Delaware at 17,000 feet. The flight turned back to Philadelphia, landing at 4:48 p.m.

All six of those injured, including two flight attendants, were treated and released from nearby hospitals, Lehmacher said.

US Airways and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating.

Dave Dombek, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather, said severe turbulence isn't uncommon in the spring, typically a windier time of the year. Warming spring air rises quickly, Dombek said, and the colder air comes down just as fast.

Airplanes are often stuck in the middle.

"Sunday was a day where there was a lot of turbulence and that up and down motion was pretty traumatic," Dombek said. "For it to affect a pretty large plane like that, it had to be pretty aggressive."

Passenger Mark Pensiero, 58, of Moorestown, N.J., said he's a frequent flier but he knew Flight 735 was a bad one.

"There was no point in that flight that it was calm," he said. "I've experienced it before, but this was a whole 'nother level."

The flight to Orlando took off again just before 6:30 p.m. and both Pensiero and DeSue, who said she's "antsy" about flying all the time, got back on. DeSue had grandkids waiting for her at Disney World and had faith in a power far higher than 17,000 feet.

"My husband, Roger, and I just decided it was a fluke, it was something that just happened," she said from Orlando. "If that didn't kill us, there's no reason it will happen again."