Worker who fell asleep in Alaska Air flight's cargo hold forces emergency landing

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SEATAC, Wash. —

An Alaska Airlines flight was forced into an emergency landing Monday after a worker was heard screaming from the cargo hold.

Quick Facts:          

  • A ramp agent was trapped in a cargo hold after takeoff            
  • He told officials he fell asleep            
  • The agent has since been released from hospital          
  • He was in cargo hold for 14 minutes

A ramp baggage agent -- employed by Menzies Aviation -- was still inside the cargo area during takeoff, and the sounds he made pounding on the cargo bay ceiling and his screams for help were heard by the Alaska airlines flight crew, passengers and even U.S. Air Marshals onboard the flight.

He told authorities he had fallen asleep, according to Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines officials said the employee started work at 5 a.m. and was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m.

During a team huddle, the leader  noticed the employee was missing. The leader called into the cargo hold for the employee, called and texted the employee's cellphone, but didn't get a response. His co-workers  believed he had ended his shift and went home.

According to officials, the employee passed a drug test Monday afternoon, after being checked by doctors at Highline Medical Center.

“He told first responders who spoke with him that he boarded the cargo hold and was taking a nap prior to the aircraft taking off,” said Bobbie Egan, Alaska Airlines spokeswoman.

According to Egan, "Immediately after take-off, the pilot of Alaska Airlines Flight 448, bound for Los Angeles, reported hearing banging from beneath the aircraft."

Fire and police officials responded to the airport shortly before 3 p.m.

By the time the ramp worker hopped out of the forward cargo bay surrounded by rescuers, passengers on board had been hearing his desperate frantic cries for help during the entire short-lived flight.

“All the sudden we just hear some banging right under our feet,” said passenger Jamie Davis, who said he heard the ramp worker screaming and pounding for help above the cargo hold, in the first class cabin. 

“We thought something was stuck in the wheel because that's kind of the sound of it,” he said. “Then we started hearing voices underneath us and pounding, significantly louder and louder."

Davis said two Air Marshals jumped into action trying to keep the panicked worker calm.

“He just kept banging, and at some point--the marshal made himself known he started banging back and he yelled really loud and said we're getting ready to land! hold onto something!"

"The aircraft was in the air for 14 minutes. After landing, a ramp agent was found inside the front cargo hold, which is pressurized and temperature controlled. The ramp agent appeared OK, and was transported to the hospital as a precaution," wrote Alaska Airlines on its blog.

By around 4:45 p.m., staff at Highline Hospital, where the ramp agent was taken -- said he had already been treated and released.

Chopper 7 video shows the ramp agent sliding out of the Alaska Airlines flight cargo area.

KIRO 7’s Alison Grande spoke with a passenger inside the plane. Christina Tuscany said the pilot didn’t tell the passengers why they were turning back. When the plane got to the gate passengers saw the emergency crews and the worker walk out of the cargo hold.

There were 170 passengers and six crew members on Flight 448, which landed in Los Angeles around 6:20 p.m.

An unidentified Menzies baggage worker told KIRO-7 the idea of napping on a plane while crews are incredibly busy is shocking.

“I have no idea,” said the worker. “I think he was probably tired and fell asleep, I don't know."

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