A United Airlines plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Shannon Airport in the Republic of Ireland due to severe turbulence during a transatlantic flight. Sixteen people were taken to hospital with injuries.

The incident on flight UA-880 took place at around 6.00am BST on Wednesday (31 August). Fourteen passengers and two cabin crew were taken to University Hospital Limerick for treatment.

The Boeing 767-300 aircraft was travelling from Houston, Texas to London Heathrow when it was forced to divert. "United Airlines is providing care and support to customers and crew of flight UA-880 which experienced severe and unexpected turbulence during a flight from Houston to London Heathrow today," the company said in a statement.

"The aircraft diverted to Shannon Airport in Ireland where it was met by medical personnel," it added. "We wish these passengers and crew a quick recovery from their injuries."

The flight was carrying 207 passengers and 13 crew members, Sky News reported. Leslie Chi, a student at Nottingham Trent University wrote on Facebook that she "really felt I might die" after turbulence shook the aircraft. She added that she is fine now.

Air turbulence can come about due to number of different conditions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Turbulence can be created by "atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air around mountains, cold or warm weather fronts or thunderstorms. Turbulence can even occur when the sky appears to be clear," the FAA website notes.

Turbulence is the most common cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. Around 58 people are injured each year in the US due to not having their seat belts fastened during turbulence.

Between 1980 and 2008, US air carriers had 234 "turbulence accidents", resulting in 298 injuries and three fatalities, according to the FAA. At least two of the three people who died were not wearing their seat belts when the sign was illuminated.