A United Airlines jet flying from Houston, Texas, to London Heathrow has made an emergency landing at Shannon airport in Ireland after “severe and unexpected turbulence” left 16 people injured.

Fourteen passengers and two crew members were taken to hospital. The pilots had contacted Shannon air traffic control seeking permission to land due to a “medical situation on board”, according to the airline.

Ambulance crews were dispatched to the runway and picked up the injured passengers when the plane landed. The Boeing 767-300 jet had 207 passengers and 13 crew members on board and had been due to arrive at Heathrow at about 7am on Wednesday.

“The aircraft diverted to Shannon airport in Ireland where it was met by medical personnel,” said a spokesman for the airline. “United Airlines is providing care and support to customers and crew of flight UA880.”

He added: “We wish these passengers and crew a quick recovery from their injuries.”

The injured were taken to University hospital Limerick where their injuries were described as minor.

According to the United States Federal Aviation Administration, most injuries from turbulence occur when passengers are not wearing safety belts. Most turbulence-related accidents happen at about 9,000 metres (30,000ft).