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Seat-belt sign was off, flight's passengers say

Most passengers aboard a United Airlines flight that took a deadly plunge when it hit turbulence over the Pacific said the seat-belt sign was off at the time of the accident, NHK television reported Wednesday.

Of 360 passengers aboard the flight, which killed one person and injured more than 100, almost 240 passengers said the seat-belt signs were not on before the accident, NHK said.Quoting the Transport Ministry's aircraft accident investigation committee, NHK also reported 270 passengers did not remember an announcement recommending that seat belts be fastened before the plane hit turbulence.

Sudden turbulence hit the jet as it was flying over the Pacific on Dec. 28, hurling some passengers into the ceiling and overhead luggage compartments. A 32-year-old woman died of a head injury.

The flight returned to Tokyo instead of continuing to its destination, Honolulu.

The ministry is still processing the results of the survey, and no decision has been made as to whether the results will be released to the public, spokesman Toshio Murayama said Thursday.

The survey polled nearly 96 percent of the passengers on board about the seat-belt issue, he said, without elaborating.

United has said the seat-belt sign was turned on after the plane hit slight turbulence and announcements were made in English and Japanese alerting passengers to buckle up before severe shaking started.

In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board has said information from the flight recorder showed the plane was severely buffeted by turbulence but actually dropped much less than first thought - 100 feet, rather than an initial estimate of 1,000 feet.

U.S. aviation authorities have primary jurisdiction over the investigation because the U.S.-owned jet encountered turbulence in international air space outside of Japan.