By TAMARA LUSH
MIAMI -- A Continental Airlines jet carrying 179 people from Brazil to Texas hit severe turbulence over the Atlantic early Monday, injuring at least 26 -- including four seriously -- and forcing an emergency landing in Miami, officials said.
One passenger said he felt Continental Flight 128 drop without warning while flight attendants were in the aisles. Some were thrown against the roof.
Houston-based Continental said there were 168 people and 11 crew on the Boeing 767. The airline released a statement that said the fasten seat belt sign was illuminated at the time and that about 28 passengers were treated in Miami.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Elkin Sierra said four people were seriously injured and another 22 had bumps and bruises. A total of 14 people were taken to hospitals.
The plane was on an overnight flight from Rio de Janeiro to Houston. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the turbulence struck about halfway between Puerto Rico and Grand Turk island, north of the Dominican Republic.
The plane reported hitting severe turbulence at 4:30 a.m. and landed safely at 5:30 a.m, at Miami International Airport, Bergen said.
Passenger Fabio Ottolini of Houston said it was about six hours into the flight when he felt the aircraft suddenly drop.
"People didn't have time to do anything," he said.
Ottolini said flight attendants were serving items in the aisles when the turbulence hit. He said some flight attendants were thrown against the roof of the cabin and may have been among those injured.
Carolina Portella, 18, was on the flight and headed to college in San Francisco. She said the plane hit a little turbulence and then suddenly dropped severely. The oxygen masks popped out.
"The plane just dropped," she said. "I just grabbed the hand of the person next to me and held on."
The rest of the flight, she said, was smooth.
Rio de Janeiro was also the departure airport for Air France Flight 447, which crashed amid thunderstorms June 1 in the mid-Atlantic more than 900 miles off Brazil's northeastern coast, killing all 228 people on board.
The FAA's Bergen cautioned against drawing any parallels and said the cause and severity of the turbulence in the Continental case was still being investigated. "I wouldn't draw any conclusions and comparisons," Bergen said.
Airport officials say some passengers were going on to Houston on various Continental flights about midday. He did not know when the remaining passengers would be expected to arrive in Houston.