• A cabin pressurization issue led to panic aboard a Delta flight on Wednesday, which was forced to divert to a nearby airport and make an unscheduled landing.
  • Pilots descended nearly 20,000 feet in less than seven minutes as oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.
  • When a plane loses cabin pressure during flight, pilots typically descend to around 10,000 feet, where air is breathable.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

Passengers on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale experienced a terrifying ordeal on Wednesday, after a midair emergency led to panic as oxygen masks dropped and passengers felt the plane rapidly descending.

Delta did not immediately return a request for comment from Business Insider. The captain of the flight said there was an issue involving cabin pressure, according to a passenger who was on the plane.

Photos from inside the cabin show masks dangling from the ceiling as the plane made its unusually fast drop.

Data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 showed that the plane descended from 39,000 feet to 10,000 feet in about seven minutes. The plane diverted to Fort Lauderdale instead.

Normally during a cabin-depressurization event or even the possibility of one, such as an indicator light activating in the cockpit the pilots will descend to about 10,000 feet, an altitude at which there is still enough air in the atmosphere for people to breathe. The oxygen masks that drop down provide enough breathable air to last through the expedited descent.

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"Over halfway through the flight, which had previously been smooth as could bem we quickly began descending and the oxygen masks dropped down into our laps," passenger Andrew DeWoskin told Business Insider. "Immediately, there was a panic amongst the passengers."

"A flight attendant got on the intercom and repeatedly instructed 'Do not panic, do not panic,' but the faces of those around me certainly showed panic," he added."

"I texted my parents, sister, and girlfriend and let them know that the masks dropped and that I loved them," DeWoskin said. "Of course, I updated them once the captain got onto the intercom and alerted us that we were safe to remove our masks."

According to DeWoskin, the captain explained that "there was a cabin pressurization issue and they tried to descend quickly enough before the masks automatically deployed, but they couldn't get down to breathable air fast enough."

The plane, a 19-year-old Boeing 767-300, according to FlightRadar24, appeared to still be in Tampa on Thursday morning.

Delta told Atlanta-based WSB-TV that the plane diverted to Tampa "out of an abundance of caution."

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