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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

The employee working at a Seattle airport who fell asleep in the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines plane Monday — prompting an emergency landing — has passed a drug test and was released from the hospital shortly after the incident, according to the airline.

Passengers and the pilot of a Monday afternoon flight to Los Angeles were startled to hear yelling for help and pounding coming from within the aircraft during take-off at about 2:40 p.m. local time. The pilot turned the plane around within 14 minutes and made an emergency landing back in Seattle, Alaska Airlines said in a statement.

"After landing, a ramp agent was found inside the front cargo hold, which is pressurized and temperature-controlled," the statement said. The ramp agent, who has not been identified, told authorities he had fallen asleep, the airline said.

The contract worker started his shift at 5 a.m. (8 a.m. ET) Monday and was scheduled to get off work at 2:30 p.m., according to the airline. His three team members realized he was missing after they loaded baggage on to the flight, but after attempts to call and text him went unanswered, assumed he had gone home at the end of his shift, according to the airline.

The 170 passengers and six crew members on the flight arrived safely in Los Angeles at 6:17 p.m. Monday, the airline said.


— Elisha Fieldstadt