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Woman sues airline over 'extreme turbulence'

A Texas woman claims a rough airline flight has left her emotionally traumatized, on medication and in therapy. KCBD's Alex Butler reports.

A Texas woman is suing Continental Airlines and three other carriers over mental trauma she said she experienced during turbulence on a flight.

Colleen O'Neal of Lubbock, Texas, was flying from College Station to Houston on Oct. 29, 2009, when the flight hit extreme turbulence just minutes after takeoff, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Harris County district court. Weather reports at the time of departure showed a threat of "tornados, wind shear, and dangerously strong winds with rotating and intense thunderstorms."

What was supposed to be a 20-minute flight turned into more than two hours as the aircraft repeatedly rose and fell "as if it had lost power and was falling out of the sky," according to the lawsuit.

At one point, the pilots attempted to make an emergency landing in Victoria, Texas, but it was aborted.

In the lawsuit, O'Neal claims she experienced "extreme fear during this flight and believed that she was going to die." She has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffers from nightmares, flashbacks and an intense fear of flying.

She claims that the airline failed to obtain necessary weather information and take action to ensure the safety of passengers aboard the flight.

“I think they made a mistake in taking off. I don’t think we ever should have been in the air,” O'Neal told msnbc.com on Tuesday, adding that upon landing, crew members and passengers aboard the flight took a picture because they all survived.

O'Neal said she has not been able to fly since, which she believes has damaged her job prospects and future earnings potential.

In addition to Continental, the lawsuit also names Colgan Air, Pinnacle Airlines and United Continental Holdings. United and Continental announced a merger in 2010. Colgan Air, which was operating the aircraft for Continental, is owned by Pinnacle Airlines.

A spokesman for United Continental Holdings told msnbc.com that the airline had not yet had the opportunity to review the lawsuit.

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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.