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Spinal Injuries, Fractures After Asiana Plane Crash in SFO

July 10, 2013 — Doctors have reported seeing an unusual pattern of spinal injuries in dozens of critically injured victims of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, a plane that crash-landed on July 6 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The injuries are consistent with extreme whiplash and falling injuries. Although most of the plane’s 307 passengers walked away without serious injuries, area hospitals have treated at least 40 people with serious injuries, including 11 children. At least 23 people remain hospitalized, with five people in critical condition.

Dr. Geoff Manley, the chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital, provided an interview on Monday to provide updates on some patients he oversees. He said that two people have paralyzed legs, but it is too early to tell whether they will recover. Several patients have required surgery to stabilize their spinal cord. Some of the worst injuries involve ligaments that were stretched or torn and cannot support joints in the neck or back. Other victims have crushed vertebrae that compressed their spinal cord.

It is likely that many victims will have a long, painful, and expensive recovery. Rehabilitation for spinal injuries often requires surgery, braces for several months, and medication to treat pain caused by impinged nerves. People with nerve damage are also at risk of permanent muscle weakness, loss of sensation, paralysis, muscle spasms, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, and other devastating complications.

Doctors stated that the plane crash injuries are consistent with violent shaking, falling, and being thrown forward and backward — similar to whiplash in car accidents when passengers are not wearing shoulder belts. The number of injuries has raised questions about whether planes should provide shoulder restraints in addition to lap-belts.

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