At least 26 people were injured when a Continental Airlines jet hit severe turbulence and was forced to make an emergency landing in Miami.
Four people were seriously injured with neck and back injuries, while the other 22 suffered bumps and bruises, a fire service spokesman said.
The Boeing 767 had been travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Houston when it encountered a pocket of “extreme turbulence” whilst cruising at 11,600m (38,000ft), 80km north of the Dominican Republic.
“The plane just dropped,” 18-year-old Carolina Portella told AP agency. “I just grabbed the hand of the person next to me and held on.”
Another passenger, Fabio Ottolini, said some flight attendants who were standing in the aisles when the turbulence hit were thrown against the ceiling.
The pilot declared an emergency and diverted to Miami, where the plane landed at 05:35 local time (09:35 GMT).
Hydraulic lifts were reportedly used by rescue crews to get those hurt off the plane as quickly as possible.
Those with minor injuries were flown to Houston later along with the remaining passengers. There had been a total of 168 passengers and 11 crew on board, officials said.
Rio was also the departure airport for Air France Flight 447 that crashed in the mid-Atlantic, more than 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) off Brazil’s northeastern coast, in thunderstorms on June 1, killing all 228 people on board.
The FAA 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,” a spokesman for the FAA 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.