Jet with faulty landing gear lands safely

All 145 aboard safe after emergency procedure in Los Angeles

wheel turned sideways

September 22, 2005|By Jill Leovy, Monte Morin and Jesus Sanchez

LOS ANGELES -- A JetBlue airliner with 145 passengers and crew members aboard made an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport yesterday after a malfunction turned the front landing gear sideways and forced the pilot to abort a transcontinental flight.

After flying over the ocean to burn off fuel, the plane made its final approach, the pilot balancing the craft on its rear landing wheels, keeping the damaged front gear off the runway as long as possible.

The front gear was the last to touch down. The tires shredded, and sparks showered from the twisted wheels.

Moments later, the Airbus 320 stopped on the runway as emergency vehicles approached.

"It was a very, very safe landing," Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli said. "The pilot did an outstanding job. He kept the plane on its rear tires as long as he could before he brought it."

Within minutes, passengers left the plane on a mobile ramp. Many talked on cell phones as they boarded waiting buses.

No injuries were reported, Roupoli said. "Just a big hallelujah and a lot of clapping," he said.

Passengers said they were tense during the flight as they watched the crisis on in-flight television.

"Communications were cut well before we landed," passenger Mike Miceli told KNBC television in Los Angeles. "But we watched it probably for an hour or so."

When the plane rolled to a stop, there was "huge relief. People were shouting and clapping," Miceli said.

More than 20 fire companies, 20 ambulances and evacuation teams were ready when the plane landed at 6:19 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Flight 292 left Burbank, Calif., at 3:17 p.m. PDT en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, said Bryan Baldwin, a JetBlue spokesman.

"Shortly after the plane left, the pilot discovered he may have a problem with the landing gear," Donn Walker, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a telephone interview.

After it left Burbank, the flight was diverted to Long Beach Airport, where the plane circled.

Stew Sawyer, a Long Beach resident who lives two blocks from the airport, said he was listening to the control tower radio when he heard controllers discussing the problem with the JetBlue pilot.

"I heard the pilot asking for emergency equipment," Sawyer said. "The tower told him to go back up and burn off fuel. The pilot asked for a fly-by so that the tower could check his landing gear. He did a fly-by real low and the tower said, `Your landing gear is 90 degrees the wrong way.'"

The plane touched down its back wheels, its nose aloft. It coasted for about 15 seconds, slowly tilting downward until the front wheels hit the runway, producing a long column of white smoke that streamed beneath the plane.

As the plane rolled, bright flashes of flame and sparks appeared.

The plane then continued to roll for 20 seconds before grinding to a halt. The smoke cleared to reveal the front wheels reduced to mangled metal and rubber, but the rest of the plane apparently was undamaged, and the underside never touched the runway.

Jill Leovy, Monte Morin and Jesus Sanchez write for the Los Angeles Times.

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