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There were ‘people flying’: Passengers recall mid-air drop of LATAM Airlines flight

By Cristopher Ulloa and Marlon Sorto, CNN

(CNN) — Chilean aviation authorities are on their way to New Zealand to investigate the LATAM Airlines flight that had a mid-air drop Monday, as teams on the ground remove the plane’s flight data recorders for analysis.

Several passengers described to CNN the terrifying flight from Australia to New Zealand, with the pilot telling those on board he temporarily lost control of his Boeing 787 after one of its instruments failed.

Passenger Brian Jokat was woken from his sleep as the plane dropped close to 500 feet in an instant, with some passengers “stuck to the roof” before they fell back to the floor, he told CNN.

After landing in Auckland, the pilot checked on passengers and explained he had temporarily lost control of the jet, saying: “my gauges just kind of went blank on me,” according to Jokat.

Dozens were injured, with LATAM Airlines reporting that flight LA800 had experienced a “technical event.” The airline told CNN the affected passengers and cabin crew “received immediate assistance and were evaluated or treated by medical staff at the airport as needed,” but did not give further details.

It’s the latest incident to hit troubled aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has been rocked by years of quality and safety issues.

A team of Chilean aviation authorities are en route to Auckland to investigate the incident, Chile’s Directorate General of Civil Aeronautics (DGAC) said on Tuesday.

The DGAC communications office told CNN that the team is made up of two members, who will be given the plane’s flight recorders, commonly known as black boxes, for analysis. A technician from New Zealand will also join the investigation.

On Tuesday, New Zealand authorities said it was already in the process of removing the plane’s flight data recorders for analysis at Chile’s request.

A group of passengers on board the flight arrived back in Chilean capital Santiago on Tuesday, with Chilean resident Verónica Martínez describing the experience as “horrible.”

Everything was normal until the plane “kind of shut down – went down. [There were] people flying – things flying,” she said, speaking from Santiago International Airport.

Martínez said she was not injured because she was wearing a seat belt, but she saw some people, including a baby, flying through the cabin. She described that moment as being on a “roller coaster.”

Another passenger, Diego Valenzuela, who also spoke to the media upon leaving the airport on Tuesday, said that “for 3, 4 seconds, [it was] a free fall, and afterward, many were injured.”

Martínez and Valenzuela both said they felt relieved to be on Chilean soil.

Approximately 50 people were treated for injuries upon arrival in Auckland, including one in serious condition, emergency medical services provider Hato Hone St John Ambulance told CNN.

The operator said 12 patients had been taken to hospitals.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the number of members of the Chilean investigation team.

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