Dozens of people were injured when an Air Canada flight to Australia encountered unexpected turbulence, forcing the plane to land in Hawaii on Thursday.

The flight from Vancouver to Sydney encountered "un-forecasted and sudden turbulence," about two hours past Hawaii when the plane diverted to Honolulu, Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said in a statement.

"Current information indicates there are approximately 35 people who appear to have sustained minor injuries," Mah said.

Emergency responders met the plane at the gate. Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokeswoman wasn't able to immediately provide details about what kinds of injuries were involved.

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Passengers told news reporters the turbulence tossed people into the air, some hitting the ceiling.

Turbulence: The flight from Vancouver to Sydney diverted to Honolulu at around 6:45 am. Photo / Flight Radar 24
Turbulence: The flight from Vancouver to Sydney diverted to Honolulu at around 6:45 am. Photo / Flight Radar 24

"We hit turbulence and we all hit the roof and everything fell down, and stuff ... people went flying," passenger Jess Smith told CBC News.

"I watched a whole bunch of people hit the ceiling of the plane," said another passenger Alex MacDonald. "A couple of the air hostesses were bringing food out at the time, and they hit the roof as well. But as a whole people seem to be OK; didn't seem to be any major injuries."

Passenger Luke Wheeldon told Honolulu news station KTIV about half the passengers weren't wearing seatbelts. "There was no warning and then half of them, their head hit the roof all at once," he said. "And I went, 'Oh, this is a bad day.'"

The turbulence happened at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters) about 600 miles (966 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu, said US Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

Gregor says crew members asked for medical personnel to meet the plane at the gate.

The Boeing 777-200 was carrying 269 passengers and 15 crew members, according to Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

Air Canada was arranging hotel accommodations and meals in Honolulu and options for resuming the flight, Mah said.

In 2017 a study by Universities of East Anglia and Reading, suggested that instances of extreme turbulence might be on the rise due to increased atmospheric CO2.

The study predicted turbulence in the skies above Australia will increase by 50 per cent by 2050-2080.

Should flyers be afraid of increasingly rough flights? "Probably not," says Herald Travel columnist Eleanor Barker, who recently answered readers' questions on turbulence.

"There have only been six reported fatalities because of turbulence since 1980. All were caused by people not being buckled into their seats when the plane hit dangerous weather conditions."

With additional reporting