US passenger jet makes dramatic landing

A United States airliner with 146 people on board made a dramatic but safe emergency landing on Wednesday amid a hail of sparks and smoke after its nose wheels jammed wildly out of alignment.

The JetBlue Airways Airbus A-320 with 140 passengers and six crew on board touched down gently on Los Angeles International airport’s runway 25 at 6.19pm local time, with its front wheels locked 90 degrees to the left.

Sparks, flames and a pall of thick smoke erupted from the tyres as they scraped along the tarmac, while scores of fire engines and ambulances raced alongside the stricken plane that had taken off from nearby Burbank airport three hours earlier bound for New York’s John F Kennedy airport.

But while the two front wheels never straightened, the flames quickly died down and passengers began disembarking normally, using rolling stairways, a few minutes after it came to rest on the tarmac.

“JetBlue Airways is very happy to report that flight 292 landed safely at 6.19pm and we have no initial reports of injuries to either customers or crew,” airline spokesperson Brian Parrish said.

After the harrowing landing, the plane’s emergency slides were not deployed. Passengers walked down the stairs on to buses to be taken away for medical checks.

“I’m quite relieved,” passenger Mike Miceli told NBC4 television, adding that passengers had been warned to brace for a rough landing but had remained calm.

“Everyone was extremely professional. The pilot was fantastic,” he said, adding: “There were definitely a lot of nervous people. There was a lot of comforting going on.”

The jet’s crew began moving passengers and baggage to the back of the plane to lighten the load on the nose to allow it to touch down gently, passengers said.

But despite the drama and tension, the landing was textbook, with the 156-seater European-built jet maintaining its straight course along the runway centre line, despite the rakish angle of its front landing gear.

“Fortunately, this pilot did an outstanding job,” Los Angeles Fire Department battalion chief Lou Roupoli said. “We were expecting a hard landing, and he put it down perfectly.

“We always expect the worst, that’s why we prepare for the worst. We were ready in case every passenger had to go to the hospital.”

Passengers inside the jet found themselves in the unusual and eerie position of watching the drama unfold on live television newscasts piped into JetBlue planes via satellite.

“I’m surprised they kept the televisions on because people were getting upset,” said one passenger, Howard Averill, after leaving the plane.

The jetliner was diverted back to the Los Angeles area shortly after setting out on its 5 000km transcontinental journey at 3.17pm, airline officials said.

“After take-off, the pilot reported a landing-gear indication light and as a precaution decided to return,” JetBlue spokesperson Bryan Baldwin said.

The Airbus earlier flew low over Long Beach airport near Los Angeles to allow officials to take stock of the damage to its landing gear, which was twisted 90 degrees out of kilter.

After at least two hours of making wide circles out over the Pacific Ocean, where it burned up or dumped fuel intended for its five-hour flight to avoid a possible blaze on touchdown, the pilot decided to land.

A flotilla of fire engines and ambulances, as well as police and emergency officials, waited on the tarmac for the arrival of the jetliner.

Local hospitals said they had been put on alert to cope with a possible disaster, while traffic into and out of Los Angeles airport was disrupted as air traffic controllers cleared the JetBlue plane’s path.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Donn Walker said such stomach-churning emergency landings usually turn out well.

“It’s not uncommon for aircraft to have problems with their landing gear and the vast majority of times the aircraft land safely and everyone gets off without injuries, but sometimes it can be very bumpy,” Walker said.—AFP

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