'What’s That Noise?' Plane Makes Emergency Landing After Worker Found in Cargo Hold

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An airport ramp agent nearly took an unexpected trip to Los Angeles. (Photo: AP)

An airport ramp worker came very close to flying his way to another city — in the cargo hold of a plane.

Alaska Airlines says Flight 448 made an emergency landing on Monday, 14 minutes after taking off from Seattle because a ramp worker had gotten trapped inside the cargo hold.

The airline has confirmed that the ramp agent, who works for Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, was asleep in the cargo hold when Flight 448 departed L.A. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot heard “banging from beneath the aircraft.“

Alaska Airlines says the captain then quickly returned the plane to Seattle, where, after landing, the ramp agent was found in the cargo hold and taken to the hospital. Fortunately for the sleeping employee, the cargo hold was pressurized and temperature controlled.

Alaska Airlines says the Seattle baggage handler is out of the hospital and has passed a drug test.

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Not a good way to end your workday; Alaska Airlines confirms the employee had fallen asleep in the cargo hold. (Photo: AP)

Alaska Airlines is now shedding light on what led up to this crazy incident. The airline says the employee was part of a four-person team loading baggage onto the plane Monday afternoon.

“During a pre-departure huddle, the team lead noticed the employee was missing,” the airline says in its statement. “The team lead called into the cargo hold for the employee and called and texted the employee’s cell phone, but did not receive an answer.” The airline says the employee’s co-workers thought he’d finished his shift, which was scheduled to end at 2:30 p.m., and went home. Flight 448 took off at 2:39 p.m.

Alaska Airlines is stressing — repeatedly — that drugs weren’t related to this incident. In addition to revealing the employee passed a drug test, the airline made sure to point out that all of its workers “undergo full criminal background checks and drug screening prior to being hired. They are also subjected to random drug tests throughout their employment.”

Related: Trapped on Runway: Airport Delays From Hell

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Luckily for the Alaska Airlines worker, the cargo hold in which he was stuck was pressurized and temperature controlled. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was sleeping,” said Kyle Bailey, an aviation safety analyst, pilot, and FAA Safety Team representative. For one, it’s very hard to get locked in a cargo hold in a jet about to take off because someone would have had to close and lock the door from the outside.

“That door isn’t quiet — you can hear it when you’re up in the cabin,” Bailey said. “If you’re inside the cargo hold and you heard that door closing, a normal person would most likely start screaming, ‘Hey, I’m still in here!’”

Neither was Bailey surprised the baggage handler had been sleeping, given how hard ramp employees work (Alaska Airline says the employee had started work at 5 a.m.).

“[The management] is really on them to keep everything moving and keep the luggage flowing,” Bailey said. “If a worker had a little bit of downtime they might decide to shut their eyes for a few minutes. Any possible way to take a quick snooze and to take a little breather — they probably know every trick in the book.”

Now that this incident has made national news, that book may need a rewrite. Suggested addition: Rule #1: If you’re going to fall asleep in a cargo hold, make sure it’s on a plane not scheduled for a flight.

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