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Passengers ‘happy to be alive’ after turbulence hits flight

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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Josie Baskeyfield, right, of New Castle, waits for her bag at Pittsburgh International Airport on Thursday, May 5, 2016. Baskeyfield was among dozens of passengers who returned to Pittsburgh late Thursday, nearly 10 hours after their Allegiant Air flight had to make an emergency landing in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., becuase of severe turbulence.
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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Jim Straub, of Allison Park, is interviewed while waiting for his bag at Pittsburgh International Airport on Thursday, May 5, 2016. 'There was no warning whatsoever,' Straub said of the turbulence that injured seven on his Allegiant Air flight, which made an emergency landing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Malachi Witt thought his life was over as Allegiant Air flight 7001 flying from Punta Cana to Pittsburgh hit severe turbulence Thursday and took a nosedive.

“I thought, ‘the plane’s going down, and I’m going to die.’ It was like the plane’s falling out of the sky,” Witt said in a phone interview from Florida.

The force of the dive injured three passengers and four flight attendants, who were later hospitalized. The plane made an emergency landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport about 2:43 p.m., an hour after crews reported the turbulence.

Witt, 34, a software engineer from Avon Lake, Ohio, was vacationing in the Dominican Republic with his wife, Erica Larsen, 34. The couple flew out of Pittsburgh for the trip.

Witt said some of the injured appeared to have hit their heads. Some were bleeding. He and his wife were wearing their seatbelts when the turbulence occurred. They were not injured.

Once the rough ride subsided, the plane leveled out and a crew member announced the plane would make an emergency landing, he said.

Allegiant, based in Las Vegas, reported there were 137 passengers and six crew members aboard the chartered Airbus A319 operated on behalf of Apple Vacations.

“Initial reports from our crew indicate that it was unreported moderate clear air turbulence that caused the injuries and subsequent diversion,” an airline spokesperson said.

Dozens of passengers returned to Pittsburgh International Airport on a flight that arrived about 11 p.m. Thursday.

Among them was Gisela Arrow, 72, of West Middlesex, Mercer County, and her friend Josie Baskeyfield. The two vacationed for a week in the Dominican Republic.

Reporters mobbed Arrow and Baskeyfield as they approached the baggage claim, where Arrow’s husband, Floyd, gave her a hug.

“It was an experience, I tell you,” Arrow said. “I’m so happy to be alive. I’ve been on many flights. This was unreal.”

Witt said he and his wife won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon.

They plan to drive in a rental car to Orlando to visit friends and then make the 975-mile road trip to Pittsburgh to pick up his car in the airport parking lot.

“I’m not ready to get back on a plane right now,” Witt said.

Tony Raap is a Tribune-Review staff writer.Staff writer Megan Guza contributed to this report.

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