An Alaska Airlines flight turned back for an emergency landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday after a ramp agent trapped in the plane’s cargo hold began banging and screaming.

Share story

An Alaska Airlines flight made an emergency landing Monday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after passengers heard bangs and screams from a ramp agent who was trapped in the plane’s cargo hold.

The agent, who was not injured, told officials he had fallen asleep in the cargo hold before takeoff and awoke when the plane was in the air, the airline reported.

The pilot of Alaska Airlines Flight 448, bound for Los Angeles, reported hearing noises from beneath the aircraft within 14 minutes of taking off Monday afternoon, Alaska Airlines said in a statement. The flight duration, including takeoff and landing, was 22 minutes.

The captain declared an emergency for priority landing and returned to Sea-Tac.

The agent, an employee of Menzies Aviation, told authorities he had fallen asleep, Alaska Airlines said. Alaska contracts with the London-based Menzies for its cargo-handling services.

The airline said the agent had started work at 5 a.m. Monday and was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m., nine minutes before Flight 448’s scheduled departure. He had been part of a four-person team loading baggage onto the plane.

“During a pre-departure huddle, the team lead noticed the employee was missing,” Alaska Airlines said. “The team lead called into the cargo hold for the employee and called and texted the employee’s cellphone, but did not receive an answer.”

His co-workers believed he had already left, the airline said. Instead, he was napping in the cargo hold of the plane, which was carrying 170 passengers and six crew members.

Passenger Jesse Sycuro told KING-5 that passengers in first class “heard banging from underneath us and a person yelling for help.”

According to Sycuro, two air marshals jumped up and spoke with a flight attendant, who alerted the pilot.

“And shortly after that, we heard the announcement that the plane was going to be turned around,” Sycuro told KING5. “The banging continued for quite a while [as] we were circling. … Air marshals banged back down trying to communicate with the person in the hold and yelling down that we were landing.”

The ramp agent was found in the front cargo hold by Port of Seattle Fire Department officials, Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said. The cargo hold of the Boeing 737-900 is pressurized and temperature-controlled, according to Alaska Airlines.

“The ramp agent appeared OK, and was taken to the hospital as a precaution,” the airline said. “We are actively investigating the matter.”

Flight 448 took off a second time on its scheduled flight about 90 minutes late. It arrived at Los Angeles International Airport at 6:17 p.m.

The employee was discharged from the hospital and passed a drug test Monday evening, the airline said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating the matter.

In 2011, a baggage handler became trapped in the cargo hold of a US Airways jet about to depart from Washington’s Reagan National Airport after another handler closed the cargo door, according to the FAA. He was rescued after passengers heard screams and thumps from under the floor and alerted a flight attendant before the plane took off.