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Originally published September 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 22, 2005 at 5:31 PM

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Even passengers watch plane's drama on TV

The safe landing of a JetBlue Airways plane with faulty landing gear last night ended a drama carried live by television that riveted viewers...

LOS ANGELES — The safe landing of a JetBlue Airways plane with faulty landing gear last night ended a drama carried live by television that riveted viewers outside — and inside — the aircraft.

Passengers said they had watched their own crisis unfold on the news on in-flight televisions until they were turned off just before landing. One described it as surreal to watch. Another said she would have been calmer without it.

"It was the worst because you didn't know if it was going to work ... . It was very scary. Grown men were crying," said Diane Hamilton, 32, a television graphics specialist.

As the Airbus A320 was about to touch the ground, Hamilton said, crew members ordered people to assume a crash position, putting their heads between their knees.

"They would yell, 'Brace! Brace! Brace!' " she said. "I thought this would be it."

The plane, which had its front landing gear stuck sideways, landed on an auxiliary runway at Los Angeles International Airport where firetrucks and emergency crews had massed as a precaution. No injuries were immediately reported among the 140 passengers and six crew members, fire officials said.

"Just a big hallelujah and a lot of clapping," Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli said.

JetBlue Airways


Details about the low-fare airline:

Based at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

First flight: Feb. 11, 2000.

Fleet: 81 Airbus A320 aircraft.

Serves 32 airports in 13 states, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Started by David Neeleman, chief executive officer.

The Associated Press

"Communications were cut well before we landed," a passenger, Mike Miceli, told KNBC television in Los Angeles. "But we watched it probably for an hour or so." All JetBlue aircraft are equipped with DirecTV built into the back of each seat.

Passenger Zachary Mascoon, 27, said it was surreal to watch the coverage. At one point, he said, he tried to call his family, but his cellphone call wouldn't go through.

"The thing that scared me the most was watching it on television," he said.

He praised the flight crew's professionalism and calmness.

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

"We all cheered. I was bawling. I cried so much," said Christine Lund, 25.

After flying out over the ocean for about three hours to burn off fuel, the Airbus A320 made its final approach. The pilot, identified by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as Scott Burke, balanced the craft on its rear landing wheels, keeping the damaged front gear away from the ground for as long as possible.

The front gear was the last part of the plane to touch down. The tires shredded, and the twisted wheels gave off sparks from the friction. But the plane held true, and moments later the Airbus stopped on the runway as emergency vehicles approached.

"It was a very, very safe landing," 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 [down]."

Within minutes, passengers left, walking down a mobile ramp to the tarmac and boarded waiting buses.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating, agency spokesman Paul Schlamm said.

JetBlue Flight 292 left Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:17 p.m. for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin.

"Shortly after the plane left, the pilot discovered he may have a problem with the landing gear," Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Donn Walker said.

The Airbus A320 first circled the Long Beach Airport, about 30 miles south of Burbank, and then was cleared to land at the Los Angeles airport. It stayed aloft to burn off fuel and reduce its weight, Walker said.

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.' "

In the final minutes of the descent at the Los Angeles airport, rush-hour traffic slowed to less than a crawl on Interstate 405 as drivers craned their necks and peered into their rear-view mirrors. Sirens wailed as observers watched the jet come in.

A similar incident involving another Airbus A320 occurred in February 1999, when an America West Airlines flight to Columbus, Ohio, from Newark, N.J., made an emergency landing after its nose wheels rotated 90 degrees. There were no injuries in that incident.

The NTSB found during its investigation of that mishap there had been three prior cases of nose wheels on the jets rotating about 90 degrees.

Airbus spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn said jets by other manufacturers had experienced similar problems. "This has happened with just about every make and model of aircraft that is out there," she said.

But John Nance, an aviation analyst and former Air Force pilot, said the incident raises safety concerns. "The NTSB will get involved, the FAA will get involved, and they will ask, " 'Is this a chronic problem?' " he said.

JetBlue, a 5-year-old, fast-growing discount carrier based in Forest Hills, N.Y., began flying out of Burbank in May.

Material from Reuters is included in this report.

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