On 23 September 2013, the crew of a Boeing 777-3ZGER aircraft operated by Virgin Australia, registered VH-VPE (VPE) conducted a scheduled passenger flight from Brisbane, Australia to Los Angeles, United States. At about 0305 Coordinated Universal Time in the cruise at flight level (FL) 310 and flying in clear air the aircraft encountered abrupt severe turbulence. The flight crew turned on the seat belt sign, reduced the speed of the aircraft and requested from air traffic control a descent to a block altitude from FL310 to FL 290.
At the same time, the cabin crew had begun the meal service and the seat belt signs were turned off. Cabin crew members reported being thrown around the cabin by the turbulence with two of the 12 cabin crew hitting their heads on the aircraft cabin ceiling. Food and catering equipment were spread over seats, passengers and the aisles with the rear section of the aircraft affected the most. All passengers were seated at the time with their seat belts on. One passenger reported a sore neck and another passenger reported a burn injury as a result of a spilt hot meal. There were no reported injuries to the four flight crew.
This incident is a timely reminder for passengers to keep their seatbelt fastened when seated, pay attention to the safety demonstration and any instructions given by the cabin crew and read the safety information card in the seat pocket.