FORT LAUDERDALE-HOLLYWOOD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, FLA. (WSVN) - A Southwest Airlines flight headed to South Florida from Havana was forced to turn around and make an emergency landing after bird strikes led to some frightening moments for the passengers and crew.

Speaking with 7News by phone, Steven Rodriguez said he was on board Sunday’s flight. He described the confusion and fear that spread across the cabin when it began to fill with smoke.

“People were panicking and screaming, ‘Let us out! Help, help!'” he said. “I was gasping for air. It was tough, it was real hard to breathe.”

According to the airline, Flight 2923 departed José Martí international Airport for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Sunday afternoon.

In a statement sent to 7News, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said that as the aircraft was gaining altitude, it “reportedly experienced bird strikes to an engine and the aircraft’s nose.”

“Instantly there was a big boom, and smoke came in the cabin and everything,” said Rodriguez. “Everybody was going insane.”

Airline officials said the pilot was forced to turn back around and land in Havana.

But on the way back, Rodriguez, who doesn’t fly often, said the impact sent fumes through the aircraft, causing the masks to deploy.

“It was like a burn smell, and it was hurting my face. My eyes got real red, my chest started to burn,” he said.

Once the plane touched down, some passengers were evacuated through emergency exits and onto the wings of the plane, while others used the inflatable slides.

Southwest’s statement reads in part, “The customers and crew were bussed to the terminal and will be accommodated on another flight to Fort Lauderdale.”

Rodriguez said he’s just grateful for a safe landing but needs time to recover from the midair scare.

“I feel sick and very weak. I was running a fever, and I was having hot flashes,” he said. “I’m just glad that I’m not dead or anything like that. I can thank God for that.”

Rodriguez said he will be flying back to FLL on Monday. Once he lands, he plans to seek medical attention.

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