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US plane makes priority landing after man dozes off in cargo hold

A passenger plane operated by an American airline has been forced to make a priority landing after a ramp worker became trapped in the cargo hold. The man had fallen asleep in the hold prior to take off.

A statement posted on Alaska Airlines' website late on Monday said the captain of flight 448 from Seattle to Los Angeles decided to return to the airport in Seattle after he heard banging sounds, which seemed to be coming from beneath the aircraft.

The plane, carrying 170 passengers and six crew members made a priority landing at Seattle-Tacoma International airport after having been airborne for just 14 minutes.

Shortly afterwards the employee of Alaska Airlines contractor Menzies Aviation, walked out of a pressurized, temperature-controlled portion of the cargo hold. The airline said the man said that he had fallen asleep in the hold near the end of his shift. Although medics at the airport checked him and found him to be unhurt, he was taken to hospital for further checks before being released. He also passed a drugs test.

The airline said that the man was part of a four-person team that loaded baggage onto flight 448 and that his supervisory had noticed that he was missing shortly before it was due to take off.

Phone message and text unanswered

"During a pre-departure huddle, the team lead noticed the employee was missing," the statement said. "The team lead called into the cargo hold for the employee and called and texted the employee's cell phone, but did not receive an answer. His co-workers believed he finished his shift and went home."

The statement also noted that all ramp employees were required to "undergo full criminal background checks and drug screening prior to being hired. They are also subjected to random drug tests throughout their employment."

After the incident, the plane departed a second time, arriving at its destination more than an hour late.

pfd/jil (AP, AFP)