WASHINGTON — Skillful piloting may have prevented a disaster for President Barack Obama and his campaign last summer, a former federal safety official said Friday.
A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates an inflated slide may have pressed against critical control cables, forcing the emergency landing of Obama's campaign plane on July 7, 2008.
The slide inflated inside the tail cone of the campaign's McDonnell Douglas MD-81 shortly after takeoff from Chicago's Midway International Airport, the report said.
Investigators found evidence that the slide and a broken walkway railing inside the tail cone may have pressed against elevator cables that run the length of the plane. The cables are used to control whether the plane points up or down.
The plane's flight crew struggled to level the aircraft's nose, which continued to point upward after takeoff, but regained control by manipulating the control column and adjusting the trim on the plane's tail, the report said. However, the flight crew noted the pitch control pressure required to level the airplane was higher than normal, the report said.
Former NTSB member John Goglia said the problem, had it continued, had the potential to cause a stall "at a critical point in flight."
"It did have the potential of causing a catastrophic event," Goglia said.
Normal control returned after the plane began it's descent for an emergency landing at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, said the report, which lays out evidence uncovered by investigators but doesn't reach a conclusion on the cause of the incident.
The report doesn't say why the slide inflated, but notes the air carrier, Midwest Airlines, suggested the slide's cover may not have been secured properly.
There were no injuries to the two pilots, four flight attendants, two airline representatives, and 43 passengers, including Obama.
At the time of the incident, the pilot told passengers they were never in danger, and the Federal Aviation Administration said no emergency had been declared.
However, audiotapes released about a month later showed that after the pilot discovered he no longer had full control of the plane, he told an air traffic controller: "At this time we would like to declare an emergency, and also have CFR (crash equipment) standing by in St. Louis."
Asked which runway he wanted to use, the pilot replied, "Well, which one is the longest?"
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