SEATTLE (AP) — An airport worker who fell asleep and found himself trapped in a plane’s cargo hold forced a Los Angeles-bound Alaska Airlines flight to return to Seattle on Monday afternoon.
Flight 448 had just taken off when the pilot heard banging from down below, the airline said in a statement. The captain immediately returned to Seattle-Tacoma International and declared an emergency for priority landing.
After the plane landed a ramp agent came out from the front cargo hold, which Alaska said is pressurized and temperature-controlled.
“Upon exiting, he told authorities he had fallen asleep,” the airline said.
The man, an employee of Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, walked off the plane. He was initially checked by medics at the airport and found to be unhurt, airport spokesman Perry Cooper said.
The man was also checked at a hospital and released, the airline said Monday evening. After his release from the hospital, he passed a drug test, airline spokesman Bryan Zidar said.
The airline did not identify the worker. A Menzies spokesman did not immediately return an email request for comment and details about the employee.
The plane was airborne for 14 minutes.
The man started work at 5 a.m. Monday and was due off at 2:30 p.m., the airline said in a statement. He had been part of a four-person team loading baggage onto the flight, which initially departed at 2:39 p.m.
Before the plane departed, the leader of the man’s team noticed he was missing, called into the cargo hold for him and called and texted the man’s cellphone but got no answer, the airline said. Co-workers decided he had finished his shift and gone home.
All ramp employees undergo full criminal background checks and drug checks before hiring and are subject to random drug tests during their employment, the airline statement said.
Passenger Marty Collins told KOMO-TV in Seattle the flight was surrounded by emergency vehicles when it returned to the airport.
She said passengers did not hear the worker banging or making noise.
“Nobody on the plane heard anything like that, nobody knew why we were turning around,” she told the station. “They just said we were fine and we weren’t in any danger.”
Passengers were later told about the situation. The plane carried 170 passengers and six crew members.
“They just said there was someone in the cargo hold and he’s been escorted off and taken away,” she said.
The flight departed again at 3:52 p.m. and arrived at a terminal gate in Los Angeles at 6:29 p.m., more than an hour late, the airline said.