An Alaska Airlines flight en route from Seattle to Los Angeles was forced to turn around after the pilot “reported hearing banging from beneath the aircraft,” the airline said Monday.
It turned out the banging was coming from a ramp agent who had become trapped in the cargo hold, according to a statement from the airline.
“The captain immediately returned to Seattle, declaring an emergency for priority landing,” according to the statement. “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.”
“We just took off for L.A. regular and then about, oh, about five minutes into the flight the captain came on and said we were going back and we’d land within five to seven minutes, and we did,” Marty Collins told Seattle TV station KOMO. “When we landed was when all the trucks and the police and the fire trucks surrounded the plane.”
The ramp agent was taken to a hospital as a precaution. He was also given a drug test, which he passed, the airline stated.
After the worker was safely off the plane, Flight 448 continued on to Los Angeles where departing passengers described the bizarre events.
‘”All of a sudden we just hear some banging right underneath our feet,” said passenger Jamie Davis. “It was just, ‘help, help, help.'”
The passengers alerted flight attendants who told the pilot and two air marshals, one of whom got down on his hands and knees and tried to communicate with the trapped worker.
“He put his ear to the floor and started pounding in response to let him know that we hear him,” Davis said.
The agent, who is an employee of Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, told authorities he had fallen asleep, the statement said.
According to the airline, the employee started work at 5 a.m. and was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m.
When the team leader noticed he was missing, he called into the cargo hold and then tried to reach the employee by phone, according to the airline. When he did not respond, his co-workers believed he finished his shift and went home.
CNN and Tribune Media Wire contributed to this story.