Plane returns to Sea-Tac after banging heard in cargo hold; worker found inside took 'nap'

SEATTLE -- There are still a lot of questions about how an Alaska Airlines plane could have taken off from Sea-Tac with an employee asleep inside the cargo hold.

After Flight 448 en route from Seattle to Los Angeles turned back and made an emergency landing, the employee walked out of the cargo hold on his own and admitted that he had fallen asleep on the job.

That plane quickly took off again and completed its flight to Los Angeles Monday night. But passengers are still frustrated about the delay and wondering how this could have happened.

“I think we’re hearing a noise from the baggage compartment. Might be a person in there, so we’re going to have to come back around.”

That was the pilot of Alaska Airlines Flight 448, letting ground crews at Sea-Tac know that he had to make an emergency landing because of a noise heard just a few minutes after takeoff.

“Our passengers in the first-class cabin heard long banging and noise, so they alerted crew right away,” said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

The noise was coming from the pressurized and temperature-controlled cargo area, where animals are often kept during flights. But it wasn’t an animal making the noise.

“Upon landing, the (contract) employee with Menzies Aviation exited the forward cargo hold and mentioned to first-responders that he was taking a nap.”

Passengers on the flight tweeted pictures of the emergency responders meeting their plane on the tarmac. One asked, “Someone was stuck in cargo hold, how does that happen?"

It’s a question a lot of passengers at Sea-Tac were asking Monday.

“I think it’s scary and really unsafe, too,” said Chelsie Nieto. “Because what if it’s someone who could have been a terrorist?”

“It’s kind of crazy because it’s a big company,” Glen Suh added. “So it kind of scares you a bit about the procedures.”

Alaska Airlines said the employee worked for their contractor Menzies Aviation as part of a four-person baggage-loading team. He was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m., so his co-workers believed he had gone home when they noticed he was missing before the plane’s 3:15 p.m. departure and weren’t able to contact him on his cell phone.

“We’re clearly investigating every detail,” said Egan, “to make sure we can understand how this could have happened and to look at all our procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Alaska Airlines said the employee was checked out at the hospital and released. They also said he passed a drug test Monday afternoon.

Q13 FOX News reached out to his employer, Menzies Aviation, but did not hear back from them Monday night.

This map shows the flight path: