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Passengers wounded on bumpy flight: How dangerous is turbulence?

No one suffered life-threatening injuries, but the incident is a reminder that travelers should heed those fasten seatbelt signs.

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    An Allegiant Airlines flight from Punta Cana to Pittsburgh, Penn., had to make an emergency landing in Florida on Thursday afternoon after hitting serious turbulence.
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Seven people aboard an Allegiant Airlines flight landed in the hospital after the plane encountered severe turbulence on flight from the Dominican Republic to Pittsburg, Pa.

The turbulence was rattling enough that some passengers were thrown from their seats, and a flight attendant hit her head. The plane was diverted to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. None of the injuries were life-threatening, according to the Broward County sheriff's office in Florida. The flight attendant was the most seriously hurt.

While turbulence can be a scary part of plane travel, it is a normal and routine occurrence, caused by conditions in the atmosphere like atmospheric pressure or jet streams. Flying over mountain ranges can also produce rough weather. Because turbulence can sometimes be difficult for pilots to predict, they use turbulence reports from other pilots who have flown on the same or similar path.

Even though turbulence is normal, it can still be dangerous, which is why the Federal Aviation Administration requires passengers to wear their seatbelts as the airplane leaves the gate, after take-off, during landing and taxi, and whenever the seatbelt sign is illumined. Most injuries that do happen during turbulent flights happen to people who are not buckled in, which is why two-thirds of people injured annually on planes are flight attendants.

But nervous travelers can rest assured that even the most severe turbulence won't cause an airplane to fall from the sky, aviation experts say.

"Even in extremely rough air, the wing is not going to break off and the plane is not going to flip upside-down," pilot Patrick Smith told Gizmodo in 2014. Planes are designed to take a beating, and even in the roughest weather the plane won't move more than 40 feet in any direction.

For the smoothest flight experience, Mr. Smith recommends sitting closest to the middle of the plane, near its center of gravity. The seats that tend to pick up the most turbulence are farther to the back of the plane.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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