BREAKING NEWS: JetBlue Flight 292 Circles Above Long Beach Airport, MSNBC
Guests: Peter Goelz, Bill Tracey, Peter Reid, Jim Wells
ALISON STEWART, MSNBC ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour at MSNBC World Headquarters. Just want to reset the scene for you here.
The picture you are looking at on your screen is a JetBlue airliner. The flight number is 292. It took off around 3:07 p.m. local time from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. This plane bound for New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport, to be exact. There‘s believed to be 145 passengers aboard.
And the issue at hand, apparently there is a problem with the nose gear on this plane. It appears to be locked in some sort of a 90-degree position to the left. Therefore, this plane, after several different scenarios, is being diverted to LAX.
We are fortunate to have Conan Nolan from KNBC joining us to walk us through this coverage.
And Conan, I want to run by a couple of things with you. We‘re getting, of course, this is a developing story, so obviously we‘re getting information in in trickles and drabs. A captain, a duty officer at Los Angeles Fire Department station said they have actually not been notified just yet. Is that unusual?
CONAN NOLAN, KNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I believe that‘s probably old information, because they‘re headed, from what we understand, to LAX. That would be unusual, it would seem to me. But as I point out, and as you know, this is a situation where decisions are being made very quickly.
And they don‘t necessarily have to go to a commercial airport. There are a number of airfields, air bases, as well as Edwards Air Force Base, where they have quite the infrastructure to deal with this kind of situation. And that‘s always conceivable.
Of course, you have a bureaucracy you have to deal with, and that may prove to be a problem. But it appears that they are in no real hurry. They have apparently done their fuel drop already. They have plenty of fuel to get wherever they need to go, and the—and still make a change in course direction.
So my guess is that they probably have decided now to go to LAX. One of the concerns, as we mentioned earlier, was just the amount of traffic into that airport. There‘s just so much coming in and going out that a full ground stop would be somewhat problematic. But they‘ve done that in the past.
And plus, you might have to divert other aircraft. And plus, you have a lot of aircraft simply that you aren‘t diverting to other airports simply in the air.
But they‘ve done this before. And I think, again, based on what we‘ve been told, this should be OK. We‘re expecting that nose gear simply to snap off when they land this aircraft. And again, they‘re looking for a runway that is fully foamed, with a soft tarmac, as best as possible. The landing gear in the rear goes down first, and then they simply bring the nose down.
STEWART: All right. Conan Nolan from KNBC, we‘re going to ask to you stand by as we continue this live coverage of JetBlue airliner that left Bob Hope Airport about 3:17 this afternoon, headed for New York City, being diverted to Los Angeles.
On the phone joining us is Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB from 1995 to 2000.
Mr. Goelz, thank you so much for joining us.
PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB (on phone): Thank you, Alison.
STEWART: All right. Can you walk us through this? If a flight takes off, the captain realizes there‘s a problem with the nose gear, a malfunction, what is he to do next?
GOELZ: Well, he would—you know, there would be standard procedures that he would go through to try and get that nose gear up into the fuselage. And if he was unable to do that, I mean, there‘s two or three different procedures you can use. He‘s got to radio back to his home base and get instructions. They might try other troubleshooting techniques.
But if the nose gear is jammed, I mean, you know, they could have hit something on the runway, something could have been left on the runway that was kicked up into the area. You just don‘t know.
Then the procedure‘s got to be made—a decision‘s got to be made on where you‘re going to bring that aircraft down. And apparently the decision has been made that it‘s going to go into LAX, which has very experienced rescue folks. They‘ve got a long runway there.
They need to burn off some fuel. I was just checking into my books to see whether the A-320 can drop fuel. And I just haven‘t found that yet. You know, some plane, you can offload fuel, some planes you can‘t offload film—fuel, like the MD-80 is a plane you can‘t drop it. So they might have to stay up a little while to burn that fuel down, because they took off with a heavy load.
STEWART: That‘s exactly what we‘re getting from an airline pilot who helps us out here at MSNBC, saying the Airbus actually can‘t dump fuel.
GOELZ: Yes, I didn‘t—I didn‘t think it could, I was just checking.
GOELZ: I mean, and it‘s not unusual. A number of planes can‘t.
Boeing—many of the Boeing planes have that capability. Many of the air
some of the Airbus do not.
So, so he‘s going to have to stay up in the air for a while, and burn some of that fuel off, because if it was a—you know, it‘s transcontinental flight. He‘s going to be relatively fully loaded. And you don‘t want to come in heavy.
STEWART: And we are getting some information here at MSNBC. The Los Angeles Fire Department is confirming that this flight, JetBlue flight 292, will land at 5:25 p.m. at LAX.
We‘ve got Peter Goelz, managing director of the NTSB, on the phone, who‘s helping us walk through some of this.
Tell us why LAX would be a good airport.
PETER GOELZ, NTSB: Well, it‘s—first of all, you got to, you know, you‘ve got a good approach pattern, come—you know, it‘s uncomplicated. Secondly, you‘ve got a long runway. It‘s probably 10,000-plus feet. And thirdly, you‘ve got some of the best fire and rescue folks in the country.
So you‘ve got, and you‘ve got, you know, if, you know, something terrible happens, you‘ve got extensive hospitals and emergency resources there. So I think it‘s the correct choice. I mean, if you‘re going to put a plane down in a difficult situation, that‘s the kind of place you want to be.
STEWART: And could you give me the best-case scenario of how this plane will land with this nose gear malfunction, how it would come in if it was a perfect, perfect landing?
GOELZ: Well, you would, you—the pilot would come in and flare his aircraft, what they call, so that his tail is, rear part of the plane comes down first. And then very slowly bring the nose down, so that the nose, you know, doesn‘t hit the runway until the plane has slowed dramatically. And hopefully, the nose gear will not collapse completely, that it‘ll give it some support.
And you know, this is the type of landing that pilots have trained for. It happens occasionally with general aviation aircraft. It‘s, but, you know, when you‘re dealing with an A-320, it‘s a very serious situation.
STEWART: Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB, we thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.
GOELZ: Thank you, Alison. I just hope everything works out.
STEWART: And of course we all do here at MSNBC as well.
If you are just joining us, it‘s seven minutes past the hour. And a JetBlue airliner, the one that you‘re looking at on your screen, apparently sent out a distress call shortly after takeoff. This plane took off from Burbank Airport shortly after 3:00 p.m. It was headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
We have on the phone with us from the Long Island Fire Department a gentleman who can help us understand (INAUDIBLE).
His name is Jeff Reid. Excuse me, Long Beach Fire Department. And he is going to tell us a little bit about the preparations that are probably in gear right now for the landing of this plane.
Mr. Reid, can you tell us what the top three most important things being done on the ground are right now?
Mr. Reid, can you hear me?
Apparently we lost the person we were going to be speaking with.
Let me -- Right now, we‘re going to go to NBC‘s Bob Hager. Of course, he‘s had so much experience with situations like this.
Bob, as you take a look at this plane headed towards LAX for this emergency landing, tell me your thoughts.
BOB HAGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, I was thinking, that it‘s got to be a very delicate landing job, obviously, by the pilot, a real test of the pilot‘s skills.
But as Peter just said, the idea is to keep the nose up, so that you don‘t get that 90-degree angle front landing gear involved until the very last moment. So you try to hit on the midgear and keep your tail down, but not so far down that it‘s scraping, and run down the runway to the very end, until it‘s almost stopped.
Then you put the nose down, maybe even slam the nose down at the last minute. But the idea is to avoid some situation where you put the nose down early, and that front landing gear pointed in the wrong direction and slanted, tips your plane and makes it spin off to one side, makes it tumble. And that‘s what could cause real trouble, a lot of casualties, that kind of thing.
So that would be the important thing here.
STEWART: And Bob, tell me a little bit about this Airbus 320 in terms of its safety record.
HAGER: Well, I think that it‘s got a very good record, as far as I know. It‘s been a workhorse of the fleet ever since the Airbus became a big player in the commercial network. So there are no particular safety problems that would be, you know, something to think about here with this airplane, though.
STEWART: And Bob, once again, I want to get people who have just joined us up to date.
You‘re looking at a shot of JetBlue flight 292. It departed Burbank Airport at 3:17 Pacific Time. The destination was John F. Kennedy Airport. However, there was a distress signal sent out by the pilot. Apparently an issue with the nose gear there. You can kind of see it right at the forefront of that plane.
According to Brian Baldwin from JetBlue, there are 139 customers on board. This is the latest information. Course, this is a developing story, and the numbers will change as we go through this (INAUDIBLE)...
HAGER: Alison, can you hear me here?
STEWART: I can, yes.
HAGER: Yes, that shot is particularly good for showing exactly what‘s wrong there. That—you‘re seeing the two tires as though you‘re looking at them from the front or the rear. It‘s exactly the wrong way. They should be 90 degrees from that, facing forward. So you‘re seeing those two wheels, in effect, sideways from the front of the airplane. And there‘s a close-up of it. So that really gives you a good idea of what‘s wrong.
STEWART: And at this point, they are attempting to burn fuel. It‘s going to apparently take about 90 minutes to burn the appropriate amount of fuel to make a safe landing.
Bob Hager, I‘m going to ask you to just hold on. We‘re going to go back to Peter Goelz, formerly with the NTSB.
Tell me a little bit about JetBlue‘s safety record. They have been a real comer in the airline industry.
GOELZ: Well, they‘ve had an excellent safety record. This is an airline that started up only a few short years ago. They have new equipment. It‘s been an exemplary airline. So there‘s nothing that I know of in their record that would indicate anything other than a first-class operation.
STEWART: And we also have an interesting point about JetBlue, is, they have direct television on those planes. In a situation like this, do you have any inkling of whether they would dismantle that, considering that they are in an emergency state?
GOELZ: I have no idea what their procedures are. But I would think that the cabin crew and the passengers are focusing on emergency procedures and not watching TV.
STEWART: Walk us through those emergency procedures in a situation like this. What information is the—are the passengers getting from their crew?
GOELZ: Well, they would discuss, you know, first of all, how you get the emergency doors open, because there would be undoubtably, (INAUDIBLE) an evacuation. So you want to make sure that you‘ve got people who are sitting in emergency rows who are fully carefully capable of getting the doors open, getting them open in a timely fashion.
You want to make sure that folks are positioned in the aircraft to be able to exit it as quickly as humanly possible. And you want to make sure that you‘re practicing the brace position, which, so that if there‘s any impact when the nose does come down, that people are prepared for it.
STEWART: All right. Peter Goelz, formerly with the NTSB. We‘re going to ask you to hang on as we continue to follow this story of JetBlue flight 292, diverted to Los Angeles International Airport.
It‘s got a landing gear issue. They‘re going to have to make an emergency landing.
We are fortunate enough to have Peter Reid on the phone with the Long Beach Fire Department.
Mr. Reid, in a situation like this, when you have a large airliner with over 100 passengers about to make an emergency landing at an airport, what‘s going on on the ground? Tell me what the first three most important things going on on the ground right now for the rescue teams.
PETER REID, BATTALION CHIEF, LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA, FIRE DEPARTMENT
(on phone): Well, the most important things that we do is establish an instant command system and—to manage the incident. We call in the necessary resources to anticipate a need, and then we deploy those resources in a ready position. And that‘s what we‘ve done here at the Long Beach Airport.
STEWART: And how many people are on the ground right now?
REID: We have approximately 75 people on the ground. The crews arrived here on 18 different resources. We also have some resources staged just outside the perimeter of the airport that we can bring in if the situation warrants.
STEWART: And literally, as you look around, describe for me the kind of equipment, machinery, that‘s there.
REID: Well, we have dedicated airport crash and rescue apparatus that are here at our fire station on the airport grounds. Then we brought in resources from the community, fire engines, fire trucks, paramedic ambulances, basic life support ambulances, our incident management team, and we‘re also working in cooperation with the airport officials here, Long Beach Airport Operations and Long Beach Police Department.
STEWART: And for you, what is the biggest challenge in a situation like this, when you have a commercial airliner coming in for an emergency landing?
REID: Well, I think really the challenge is just to, you know, thoroughly implement our incident action and collect information and take the appropriate response. Right now, of course, we‘re waiting to see for the final destination of the aircraft. And then that will determine, you know, whether here, whether we continue to stand by or whether we ramp down.
STEWART: All right. And sir, have you ever partaken in a situation like this, an airliner that‘s come in?
REID: Well, we‘ve had different types of emergencies here at the Long Beach Airport. The department has responded to them. It‘s been maybe a little while since we‘ve had a commercial aircraft come in with this type of emergency. But we are prepared. We train routinely throughout the year for this type of, exact type of emergency. So we are prepared to provide services.
STEWART: All right. Peter Reid with the Long Beach Fire Department. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, as we continue to watch this situation with JetBlue flight 292.
Of course, MSNBC, of course, MSNBC is continuing to follow the situation down on the Gulf Coast as well, Hurricane Rita now a category 5 storm. We‘ve got NBC correspondents up and down the Gulf Coast. And, of course, we are going to continue to watch that story for you and bring you more information as we get it.
But right now, the compelling pictures on your screen, that is JetBlue airliner flight 292. It is flying, burning off fuel. This plane, with 139 passengers on board—that‘s according to the public information officer at JetBlue—it took off from Burbank Airport at 3:17 Pacific Time, the destination John F. Kennedy Airport, 139 passengers on board.
Apparently, the pilot called in a distress signal saying there‘s an issue with the landing gear, the nose gear, specifically, apparently has malfunctioned in some way. It‘s at about a 90-degree angle. We saw a close-up earlier, and you could really see what the issue was, how the wheels were just almost horizontal. And they were sort of bent to the left.
Air traffic controllers were deciding where to divert the plane, couldn‘t decide whether it would be Long Beach. Ultimately decided on Los Angeles International Airport. It is a large airport with wide runways.
Do we still have Conan Nolan with us from KNBC?
NOLAN: I‘m here.
STEWART: All right, Conan. Is there something that we‘re missing here as we‘re discussing this JetBlue airliner coming in?
NOLAN: You know, I don‘t think so. There is a possibility, Alison, as you pointed out, that the people on board this aircraft are watching this broadcast, because MSNBC is one of the channels that JetBlue uses on their coast-to-coast flights. Remember that one of the things that—a marketing tool, if you will, that separated this airline from all the others was that each seat has its own individual television set.
And it‘s not first class. It‘s one class, and everybody gets one. They had the exclusive contract with DirecTV. So you get something like 22 or 32 different channels, one of which is MSNBC.
Now, it‘s a very interesting question as to whether or not this is still operating. If it is, to those who are watching on board this flight, you should understand that every person we‘ve talked to, including the individuals who‘ve been consulting for MSNBC on this particular matter, believe that this will be done in accordance with other emergency landings, and that there‘s a very high probability that you will be on the ground soon, safe. And this will all be—come to a very safe conclusion.
We believe that everything is getting into position now for a return, a landing of this aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport. We assume they‘ll be putting some foam down or seeking a soft tarmac, bringing the rear landing gear down, and then the nose gear.
NOLAN: So on the outside chance they are watching, we should assure them that things appear that they are well in hand.
STEWART: And it is amazing. We were talking to that fire chief battalion—the (INAUDIBLE) -- excuse me, the battalion chief. He made the point that there were, at his location in Long Beach, which is still on standby, by the way, at least 75 people were on the ground, five engine companies, four rescue ambulances, three crash rigs, three command officers, five EMT ambulances. There‘s been so much advance notice that clearly, especially, I can imagine, at LAX, there would be at least a mirror of that sort of situation on the ground.
NOLAN: There‘s no question. And there‘s also no question that the pilot and the crew are doing a very good job of keeping everybody on board that plane apprised of what is happening, understanding that this is, a, you know, obviously, a problem, but not one that they cannot deal with. They‘re going to deal with it, and it‘s going to be done in a safe manner.
Now, as Bob Hager pointed out, it‘s going to take some work on the part of the crew, the pilot and co-pilot, to put this down very gingerly, as you see, and I‘ve used this before, the way the space shuttle comes down. If you‘ll notice, the shuttle comes down in Florida and the California desert very carefully, rear landing gear down. And then they tick off the elevation of the front landing gear, 10, nine, five, three—touchdown.
And that is exactly what we‘re anticipating here. The runway is going to be used to full advantage (INAUDIBLE). They obviously don‘t have a problem with the length of the runway at LAX.
But it‘s a matter, it would seem to me, of getting as much fuel burned off as possible, as a precaution, and making sure that where the foam is placed, or we assume that it is going to be down there, that they hit their mark. And that may be the most important part of this whole exercise now, this whole situation, I should say, is to make sure that you hit the runway at the proper spot, at the proper time, at the proper speed.
But everybody we‘ve been talking to, including those on our broadcast here, have told us that there‘s a high degree of confidence that this is going to come out just fine.
STEWART: Conan Nolan from KNBC, I‘m going to ask you to hold on.
It is 21 minutes past the hour. If you‘re just joining us here at MSNBC, we‘ve been watching this story for the better part of 30 to 40 minutes. Jet Blue flight 292 took off at 3:17 p.m. from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. It was bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Now, we‘re getting information from JetBlue that the crew found that the front landing gear was twisted after takeoff when it would not retract. The plane has been circling for the better part of an hour, we‘re assuming to burn off fuel. It is expected to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport. The plane apparently has 139 passengers aboard, also, obviously, crew. Maybe that‘s where that one original number of 145 people.
We‘re going to bring in NBC‘s Bob Hager, who has an enormous amount of experience with situations like this.
And Bob, let me ask you a little bit about the importance of the experience of the pilot in something like this, in a landing like this.
HAGER: Well, I‘m struck by the unusualness of this particular situation. I mean, the ordinary landing gear problem is that the main landing gear won‘t come down, and pilots train for that a lot. This particular situation, of the nose landing gear being twisted like that—in effect, it looks to me from the pictures as though turned sideways. That‘s something that—I‘ve not heard of that in a previous incident.
And I‘m sure there have been cases of that.
But there you can see it on the screen, how the front landing gear actually appears to be sideways, compared to whether it would be pointed toward the nose and tail, like the front and back of those front tires should be.
So I‘m not sure how much pilots would train for that, because, (INAUDIBLE) just—as I say, I‘ve never heard of a problem like that.
Now, I should say, it‘s interesting, on the main landing gear, which is the ordinary problem, oftentimes a plane configured like this one, like the Airbus 320, with the engines underneath the wing, when the main landing gear won‘t come down, those engines, in effect, take the place of a main landing gear. You hit the runway. You again keep your nose up, and the plane scrapes on the bottom of those engines. And the bottom is built particularly to take that kind of impact, it‘s a hardened bottom, as they say.
So it‘ll skid along on the bottom of the two engines, and that‘s the way you land the plane, even a big craft like this, when the main landing gear won‘t come down.
This particular problem here where the main landing gear is deployed as it should be, and the nosewheel is sideways, that‘s a whole new problem, that, I just—as I say, I‘ve not heard of that. So I don‘t know how much experience people have had with that kind of thing.
And I was just thinking it through, only because there‘s not a lot a record to go on that I know of for that kind of situation, what would happen. It seemed to me like when the plane lands, that when you finally do set that front gear down at the very last moment, and I‘m just guessing now is how this might work, from an engineering standpoint. But that gear, I mean, considering the full weight of the plane and the speed of the plane on landing, the gear is pretty flimsy compared to all that.
So that I would think if that hit sideways, that it probably breaks off, and then the nose would come down and skid along the runway. And so I think, if all this were accomplished at a slow speed, that is, when they bring the nose down at the very end of the runway, that that would be the way to tackle it.
But as I say, because this is such an unusual situation here, so odd, it‘s not like I can cite to you off the top of my head a lot of record for planes attempting this kind of landing.
STEWART: And Bob, we‘re going to ask to you hold on for one minute.
We just want to let our viewers know that we are getting confirmation from the L.A. Fire Department that this plane, JetBlue flight 292, is expected to land shortly, within the next five to 10 minutes.
And Bob Hager is joining us, as well as NBC‘s Tom Costello.
Tom do you have any more information to add to what we‘ve already been discussing?
TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (on phone): I do, in fact. Let me tell you a little bit about what I understand here in terms of the A-320. It is one of the best-selling Airbuses out on the market. And in fact, it is a fly-by-wire plane. Now, what that means is, it is a plane that essentially uses electronics signal, electronic signals, rather than the mechanical mechanisms, if you will, to control the aircraft.
And as a result of that, they believe that this airplane, Airbus is always marked to the airplane in saying that it is an easier plane to maneuver, and because of that, it is a more reliable airplane.
Boeing will take issue with that. But keep in mind, Airbus has sold a good number of these A-320s. It normally is a 150-seater when it has full capacity. In addition, Airbus markets itself as never having had a mechanically caused accident. They say whenever there has been an accident, it is because of a pilot error.
Nevertheless, clearly, right now, this is one that few people have ever seen. And you‘ve got to believe that they‘ve got a little bit of good luck here, in that it is the front nose gear, as opposed to the nose gear under the wings, and therefore you‘re not going to have the engines necessarily scraping along the runway, as it makes an emergency landing.
One would think that the L.A. County Fire Department, which, of course, is so professional, and one of the best in the world, is clearly equipped to handle this type of an emergency.
STEWART: And Bob was discussing earlier that this seems to be very unusual to see a nose gear landing—excuse me, twisted that way at that odd 90-degree angle. Any thoughts on how that could have happened?
COSTELLO: Boy, I‘m just as perplexed by this as Bob is. You know, but as I said, you would—you can imagine that they‘re going to be looking at the whole fly-by-wire mechanisms on this airplane, and to see if that played any part at all.
But this is really an unusual circumstance. And it‘s clearly—that picture does indicate, or it seems to indicate, anyway, that those wheels are pointed in the wrong direction.
STEWART: For those people who are just joining, Tom, I‘m going to ask you to stay with us.
Folks who are just joining us here at MSNBC, we are watching flight 292. This is a JetBlue airplane. It took off at 3:17 local time.
Right now, we‘re going to join Jim Wells. He is with the Los Angeles Fire Department. He is the spokesperson for the L.A. Fire Department.
And Jim, can you describe for me the kind of rescue equipment that is on the ground right now in LAX in anticipation of the landing, the emergency landing of flight 292?
JIM WELLS, SPOKESPERSON, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT (on phone):
Well, right now, we have over 110 firefighters and rescue personnel on the scene, waiting the landing of this JetBlue Airbus that‘s coming into Los Angeles International Airport.
We have companies and firefighters, along with paramedics, staged in different areas along the runway, and some of the apparatuses or stations off of the runway.
Once this aircraft lands, if there‘s a problem with the aircraft once it lands, we‘ll have firefighters to immediately apply foam and water to the aircraft to try to create a soft—a safe quarter for the passengers and crew to get out of the aircraft, and extinguish any type of flames that may develop as a result of this.
Right now, we‘re really hoping that this aircraft lands safely without any problems. But if it does not, the most important thing for the Los Angeles firefighters, who has—we have well-trained firefighters to attack this type of incident. We will depend upon our rapid response to this incident, and have equipment in place, ready to do business once this aircraft lands.
STEWART: And Mr. Wells, tell me what kind of equipment is in place right now in Los Angeles at LAX. We believe this plane is actually going to be landing on runway 25 left. That‘s the information we‘re getting, the south side of the airport closest to the Pacific Ocean.
WELLS: Yes, well, right now, we have our crash rigs out there. And our crash rigs, our airport type of apparatus, are designed to fight fires that may occur in aircraft with the type of fuel that they possess. So we have these units on the scene with foam and water and other type of extinguishing agents to extinguish any type of fire that might break out as a result of this.
So, like I say, again, we have over 110 firefighters on the scene there awaiting the arrival of this aircraft.
STEWART: And how often do firefighters prepare for this kind of emergency? What kinds of drills do you go through? How often does that happen?
WELLS: There is a drill scheduled at least every year that firefighters must attend that work on the airport area, once that drill is a live-fire drill that they go through, and to train to actually attack a fire.
And doing that drill, we actually have live fuel that is burning. Firefighters are in full protective clothing to attack the fire. They have other personnel that come in. And they practice how to rescue people, how to get into the aircraft, how to create that safe corridor for individuals to get out in case there is a fire.
But, as far as training, we train every day. Our chief, fire chief tells us, Chief Labatree (ph), tells us we have to train as if our lives depend upon it, because our lives not only depend upon it, but the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles and other people that are coming into the Los Angeles area, such as this JetBlue aircraft.
STEWART: And, Mr. Wells, you describe a safe corridor that the firefighters create for people as they exit the plane. What is that? Describe that for me.
WELLS: The most important thing is, if there happens to be a fire, there has to be a way that we must try to get the people to exit the aircraft. We have to try to push the fire away from the area in which we are going to try to get people out of.
So, the most important thing is to push this fire away from the area, form that corridor where people can get out as best they possibly can and keep the firefighter at bay, so the fire will not impede their exit when they are getting off the aircraft. So, that‘s that safe corridor where that foam and water and everything is applied to make sure that these people can get out safely.
STEWART: And, as you mentioned, there are 110 firefighters on the scene at Los Angeles International Airport.
What other officials are on the ground? What other units have responded to this, police, emergency?
WELLS: Well, it is a multi-agency type of incident that is occurring. We have airport police. We have airport officials. We have people from the NTSB. We have people from the Los Angeles County. We have just a multitude of agencies that would converge on this type of incident in the city of Los Angeles.
STEWART: And, sir, have you ever been involved in a situation like this before?
WELLS: Well, we have had situations such as this. We have aircraft coming in periodically that they have some type of warning light that indicate, indicates, that there may be some type of problem aboard the aircraft.
But most of the aircraft, they do land safely. I cannot recall recently where we have had an aircraft to come in like this, where we have actually seen the landing gear, the nose gear that is askew, like it is right now. And we don‘t know exactly what is going to happen when this aircraft lands. That‘s why it is so important that the contingency of firefighters and paramedics and other agencies that is on the scene—and that‘s why we have these people, but—because we‘re not sure of exactly what is going to happen.
We can hope for the best. But when that fails, the most important thing is to have trained person and the rapid response and the type of apparatus that can actually mitigate this situation.
STEWART: And for those who have just joined us, we are watching JetBlue Flight 292. And it is being forced to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
There seems to be some sort of a malfunction with the nose gear. I‘m talking to Jim Wells, a spokesman from the Los Angeles Fire Department, where they have 110 people on the scene.
Of course, everyone is hoping and really all the experts we have talked to expecting a safe landing for this plane.
But should there be an issue, where is the closest hospital to LAX?
STEWART: And is it prepared to take on a load like this, 139 passengers?
WELLS: Well, not actually naming hospitals that would actually take care of these individuals, there are many hospitals throughout the area. That will be done by our rescue personnel. They will contact the appropriate medical facilities or (INAUDIBLE) (ph) to determine where these people should be transported to.
I wouldn‘t want to at this time name actual hospitals where these individuals will be actually going if we have an emergency.
STEWART: Of course. And if is the big word.
And we thank you so much, Jim Wells, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department. We appreciate you taking the time to talk to us during this difficult time.
Once again, if you‘re joining us, it is 34 minutes past the hour. And we have been watching this story for the better part of an hour. So, the plane on your screen is JetBlue Flight 292. It took off at 3:17 local time out of Burbank Airport in California. It was destined for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. However, the pilot called in a distress signal.
He‘s recognized that the nose gear on the front has bent in some way. It did not retract. There was some discussion about where this plane would land. Would it land at Long Beach Airport? They are on standby right now with five engine companies, four rescue ambulances. But then it was decided this plane would be diverted to Los Angeles International Airport.
And that is where we find NBC‘s George Lewis.
And, George, for people who have never been to LAX, can you describe why this would be the appropriate, the proper airport to divert a plane which is going to make an emergency landing we believe in the next five to 10 minutes.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I‘m standing just to the south of runway 25 left, which we believe is the runway he‘s going to use to make the landing.
And the reason for the landing here is that the runways at LAX are much longer than the runways at Long Beach or the other (AUDIO GAP) the Los Angeles area. And, obviously, there‘s a heavier concentration of emergency personnel and equipment here.
As we have been watching above the airport, looking down on the runway, we can see the emergency personnel gathering. We can see the fire department helicopter overhead. Occasionally, we will see fire vehicles screaming down the side of the runway with their sirens on, their lights on. And we can observe just to the north of us, looking across the two southernmost runways, the fire equipment is assembling.
The fire personnel are getting ready for this emergency landing. Now, when the JetBlue Flight 292 comes in, it will be landing from the east to the west, heading into the prevailing winds coming off the ocean here at LAX. This runway, I believe, is more than 10,000 feet long. So, they have got plenty of room to maneuver. The problem will be to see what happens with that landing gear.
Will it straighten out on landing? Or will it crumple or what will it do? That‘s the—that‘s the big unknown. And this obviously has got to be a terrifying situation for the, we‘re told, 139 passengers aboard this plane. They‘ve had the last two-and-a-half hours to contemplate what might happen when the plane lands here at LAX—back to you.
STEWART: And, of course, this plane has been flying for the better part of two-and-a-half hours, because, as we have learned over the course of the past two-and-a-half hours, this particular model of the Airbus doesn‘t dump fuel.
It was originally reported over the Associated Press that it had. But, in fact, the plane is flying, trying to burn up as much fuel as possible.
George, there was some discussion earlier with one of our colleagues at KNBC about how busy an airport LAX is. Any sense that they have had to disrupt operations there for this impending landing?
LEWIS: Well, obviously, they‘re going to have to disrupt operations when the landing is imminent.
There are still planes taking off and landing from the southernmost runways. So, one would—a casual observer would think that the operations are going on as normal. But that‘s sort of belied by the fact that we‘re seeing this concentration of firefighting gear and personnel on the side of the runway, police cars also getting ready for this emergency landing.
We were earlier told that the landing might take place at this hour. I think it is a matter of how long it is going to take the pilot to burn off all that fuel. We talked to a pilot who flies a similar type of aircraft. He says what they do is, they accelerate the rate at which the fuel is burned. They operate with the flaps down to increase the drag on the airplane. They throttle up the engines and they try to burn it as rapidly as possible.
So, when the pilot gets down to what is an acceptable amount of fuel on board, he will then attempt that emergency landing.
STEWART: George Lewis, who is at Los Angeles International Airport for us, we are going to ask you to stand by and continue to do some reporting.
It is 39 minutes past the hour here at MSNBC World Headquarters. And we are watching Flight 292. It is a JetBlue flight which has been diverted to Los Angeles International Airport. It is expected to make an emergency landing within the next—they have been telling us five to 10 minutes, but, obviously, this is a developing story. This plane has got trouble with its nose gear.
You see there on the lower right-hand side of the screen, the nose gear has malfunctioned and twisted in some way. The pilot radioed in distress and requested an emergency landing. The numbers have been shifting, because, as we just said, this is a developing story. JetBlue is now confirming there are 140 passengers and six crew members aboard this plane, once again, 140 passengers and six crew members aboard this JetBlue Flight 292.
The plane is an A-320 Airbus. And JetBlue and Airbus have had a fairly good record. But there have been problems in the past.
And NBC‘s Tom Costello has been doing some investigating for us.
Tom, get us up to speed.
TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, Alison, we have learned that there was a similar event back in February of 1999 in Columbus, Ohio.
It was an America West flight. It was an A-320, just like this one. They had the gear lowered, but when they revealed the gear—when they lowered the gear, it revealed that the landing gear was at a 90-degree turn, something very similar to what they have right now.
Now, they did perform a very normal touchdown. And, on inspection, after touchdown, they discovered that the external O-ring on the steering control valve had apparently extruded and bypassed the hydraulic fluid and then rotated, rotated rather dramatically there. And so, as a result of that—there was no crash. But, as a result of that, Airbus issued a service bulletin to all of the carriers out there, saying you have got to correct this.
And the NTSB also took note of what had happened. But the A-320, and, in fact, the entire Airbus fleet, is a very safe fleet. And the A-320, as I mentioned earlier, is a very good-selling airplane, one of their best-selling airplanes, in fact, two engines, as you can see, on this—on this particular flight.
And JetBlue flies exclusively Airbuses. They have decided not to go with Boeing. And that‘s one reason why they‘ve been financially successful. They fly just one type of airplane. But, clearly, right now, they have got a problem with this front landing gear. And, again, as I mentioned earlier, they did have this similar problem, America West, back in 1999.
You can imagine right now that they are in touch with Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, getting the latest information they can get in terms of how this particular problem was reconciled five, six years ago, and how they might apply that knowledge to this particular emergency right now. They did land safely, as I mentioned, back in 1999 in Columbus, Ohio. And they are clearly right now taking no chances whatsoever, Alison.
STEWART: And we should message that, on that plane, everyone who—from that Ohio incident was uninjured. I believe it was 31 people.
Tom, want to ask you a little bit more about JetBlue. It has been a real comer in the airline industry, this whole idea of no first class. Everybody is first class. It started off small, but it has been growing quite dramatically.
And in an era in which the airlines are quite literally struggling to survive at all—I was on a United Airlines flight today. United is still in bankruptcy, as is Delta, Northwest and U.S. Airways, of course, ATA.
JetBlue has performed extremely well. Now, one of the reasons is because they have low airline costs, low costs with their labor. They also have low costs with flying their aircraft, because, as I mentioned, they fly newer aircraft and they fly one particular kind of aircraft. They don‘t mix and match with a bunch of different types of aircraft that require different mechanical attention, or attention in different types of formats, I should say.
And so, what has made them successful is that they‘ve kept their costs low. They are a very popular airline. As you heard earlier, they have television sets in the back of every seat. And so, you can watch live television as you‘re traveling. And then every seat is leather, of course. And they seem to have this attitude, much like Southwest does, a very jovial atmosphere, on board the aircraft.
As I mentioned, you know, the A-320 is a—is—has a very good track record. And Airbus takes pride in the fact they‘ve never had a crash as a result of a mechanical error. They believe that their crashes have all been the result of pilot error. You may recall that, in August, there was of course an A-340 that went down in Toronto.
Everybody survived, but recall that that particular Air France flight, the entire airplane was gutted with fire after it made an emergency landing. In fact, what happened, many believe it had overshot the runway in Toronto.
STEWART: ... remember, it was that giant rainstorm. It was incredibly dramatic. And...
COSTELLO: Yes, it was an A-340. And the fire gutted the aircraft.
But, yet, everybody got out and there were only very minor injuries. Part of that was attributed to the fact that the aircraft these days—and we should make this point—aircraft today are made far different than they were made 15, 20 years ago. There are flame-retardant seats on board. The wiring is such that it is supposed to give passengers on board, both Boeing and Airbus planes, that extra time to get out.
Now, the FAA mandates that you have got to clear an airplane within 90 seconds of it landing in an emergency with half the exits blocked. And so, clearly, Airbus has passed that test, as has Boeing. And one would hope they don‘t to have put it to the test right now.
And, yet, in order for this particular plane to receive the certificate it needs for air-worthiness, it had to prove it could clear the aircraft of all of its passengers within 90 seconds with half of its doors blocked.
STEWART: And, Tom, you mentioned something very important that you told us in an earlier report, but in case our viewers weren‘t tuned in there, you mentioned the wiring. These plane are essentially electronic, this particular Airbus, correct?
Airbus has developed a system called fly-by-wire. And essentially what that means is, it is a series of electronical signals—or electronic signals, I should say, rather than mechanical pulleys and a mechanical mechanism to actually move the landing gear and control the flaps on the tail and what have you. They are going—they have gone, that is, on Airbus, with the fly-by-wire system.
Essentially, you can imagine it is a very high-tech computerized system that involves very little physical maneuvering on the part of the captain. Now, Airbus also takes great pride in the fact that all of their cockpits are uniform. In other words, it is not difficult for the pilot of an A-320 to fly another Airbus, for example, an A-330 or another Airbus in the sequence, because they all have the same type of configuration and because they‘re all fly-by-wire.
And, in fact, Airbus makes a great deal of—out of the fact that an Airbus A-320 pilot could fly the brand new A-380. It‘s a double-decker, which, of course, has yet to fly. But that is one of the Airbus hallmarks, is this fly-by-wire system. Clearly, they‘ll be looking at whether that played any role at all in this.
It is obviously premature to speculate. But, as I mentioned, they do have a history, going back to 1999, in which there was that one incident in Columbus, Ohio.
STEWART: All right, Tom Costello, thank you so much. We‘re going to let you go back and do more reporting. We will check back with you in a little bit.
It is 46 minutes past the hour, 8:46 on the East Coast, 5:46 on the West Coast, where this story is developing over the skies of Los Angeles.
This is JetBlue airliner 292. This plane took off from Burbank Airport about 3:17 local time in California. It was headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. However, the pilot realized there was a problem with the nose gear, that it had malfunctioned. It had somehow turned on to some sort of 90-degree angle. You see it right there on the right side of the screen. You can see what the issue is.
He called in a distress signal. And air traffic controllers were debating about where to send this plane. Initially, Long Beach Airport suggested. It was put on standby. It still remains on standby, as many as five engine companies and four rescue ambulances there. However, it has been decided that this plane will land at Los Angeles International Airport.
We believe the pilot is flying, trying to burn off fuel, therefore, making the landing just that much more safe.
NBC‘s George Lewis is actually on the scene at Los Angeles International Airport.
And, George, can you set the scene for us right there, what you see?
George Lewis, can you hear me?
Let see if we can work on getting George back up. And I will give our viewers a little bit more information.
According to the public information officer at JetBlue, there are 140 passengers on board, six crew members and that, in fact, this A-320 does not dump fuel. That is why the pilot is flying at such a low level.
Bob Hager joins us. Of course, he‘s an expert in the field of aviation.
And can you explain the different ways that a pilot can burn off fuel?
We talked about—a little bit about an accelerated rate.
ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that‘s just a way to burn more fuel, as you would at lower altitude and get rid of it a lot faster than would you if—normally if you were at cruise altitude or something like that.
I thought, too—we haven‘t reviewed for people again the—what they can see there on the screen, showing the problem. You see that detail there that says earlier on it, a closeup of the front landing gear. And you‘re looking at those, the tires of the front landing gear, the two tires. And you‘re seeing them—I mean, what it surely appears to look like from that picture, you‘re seeing them sideways, which would—would correspond to the report that the—that officially has been given out, that that landing gear, when it came down, came down—the pilots reported it was in some 90-degree kind of angle.
That prevented them—one way they could now land it, if they had a problem, the best thing to do would be to pull all that landing gear up and land without landing gear. But I think the fact that the front gear is at that angle, they were unable to pull it up. So, they can‘t do that.
On that very crucial piece of information that Tom Costello discovered, that there was an incident like this, because I just thought this was so unusual. I hadn‘t heard of incidents. But Tom found that there was that incident in February of 1999 at the Columbus, Ohio airport.
And I think the headline off that is that it landed safely.
HAGER: I mean, we don‘t know from the details of that what it was that the crew did to offset the problem when they landed. But we do know that they landed without any consequences to the passengers or to the airplane.
So, however it was solved, it came out OK. So, that‘s very, very encouraging.
STEWART: And that is...
HAGER: I think what they‘re going to want to do when they bring this plane in is to—again, to keep the nose up, is my guess, to keep the nose up and land using the main landing gear and then, at the very last moment, when they‘ve slowed the plane as much as they can, finally bring the nose down. And that‘s when that issue comes into play with the tires being sideways on the front landing gear.
The important thing is to keep the plane pointed forward on the runway when it comes in. That‘s what it all about, because, if—if—if the awkward position of that front landing gear were to point the nose in a different direction when they finally put it down, and the plane—then you have two consequences. The plane could either veer off the runway and into the rough and tumble of the grass and terrain around the runway. Or it can begin to skid sideways and a wing could tip down or something.
And what you certainly don‘t want is a wing scraping, where the plane then tumbles over. So, the big purpose—I mean, the big point for the pilot will be to try to keep the nose pointed straight ahead, as he finally let that front landing gear down very gently toward the end of the landing.
STEWART: And, Bob, I want to follow up on a couple of things that you talked about.
You said you want—they want to keep the plane pointed forward. What would make it not point forward? What would make it skid off to the side one way or the other?
HAGER: Well, the fact that those front tires there are not rolling in a forward direction. So, you‘re encountering resistance.
When you finally touch down and put it down on the runway, it is sideways from the runway. So, you‘re encountering a lot of resistance there. That could throw nose of the plane off. Again, I‘m guessing here, but I‘m thinking that, compared to the full weight of that airplane and the speed and everything else, that, if there was a lot of resistance, that the front gear breaks off, which I think is probably a good thing, and the nose of the plane come down and you slide along on the bottom of the nose of the runway—I mean, the nose of the plane.
STEWART: And that would be a good thing because it wouldn‘t—it would be a good thing because it wouldn‘t provide any resistance. Is that what you‘re saying?
HAGER: That‘s it. That‘s it, and wouldn‘t—wouldn‘t make the nose go in another direction.
Planes, when they skid along on the fuselage or on the bottoms of the engines and so forth, there‘s a long history of that, where they‘ve had various landing gear problems, not of this kind. But they land and they skid along either on the fuselage or on the bottoms of the engine. And as long as you can keep it controlled, if you keep your plane very slow and coming in, in a controlled manner, and you skid straight ahead, then everything works out fine.
STEWART: All right. I want to follow up on one other thing that you mentioned earlier. You said that pilots are often trained—it‘s—ordinarily trained for landing gear problems in the back, as opposed to the front?
HAGER: Well, the main landing gear—well, that‘s the ordinary kind of landing gear problem, is that none of the gear will come down, that it is stuck in the up position and you can‘t get it down.
Or, sometimes, they get a light that indicates that they can‘t get it down. And it is really down and they can‘t tell. They have to fly over the tower, and the tower tells them whether the landing gear is down or not. And then, because of the uncertainty of the light situation, they‘re not sure whether it is locked, so that, even though it is down, they fear that, when they hit, it will collapse immediately.
That‘s the ordinary kind of problem. This kind of problem, where the front landing gear and just the front landing gear is at this awkward angle, where the tires aren‘t pointed in the right direction, that‘s, again, something that, it‘s not your ordinary sort of landing gear problem. That‘s for sure.
STEWART: And you mentioned the tower. What is the tower‘s involvement at this point? How much communication do they have with the pilot?
HAGER: Oh, the tower is going to be in a lot of communications with the pilot, in terms of clearing the runway and getting the plane all set up and lots of—all the other traffic away, so that they can devote their full attention just to bringing this down on the right runway.
But the real crucial communications, as Tom Costello touched on there, whenever there‘s a problem in the cockpit and you have time, as is the case here, when it‘s not sudden, there‘s always a lot of discussion on the radio between the pilots and the mechanical department of that particular airline or the mechanical department of the aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.
So, you can bet that these pilots have been on the radio frequency with the experts from JetBlue, from their maintenance department, and from Airbus. And they‘ve all been—been talking about what is the best way to handle this. And knowing nothing else in the past myself, other than that one Columbus incident that Tom mentioned, I think that would be crucial here, is that somebody would have the records of that and have some indication of what they did there.
Whatever they did, it seems to have worked.
STEWART: And, Bob, we want to ask you one more question, since you brought up that initial incident in Ohio in 1999, where a similar thing happened. I want to read you exactly what happened. And maybe you can translate into English for us.
They said: “An examination of the plane revealed the external O-rings in the steering control valve had extruded and bypassed pressurized hydraulic fluid to rotate the nosewheels.”
That‘s what happened to that flight back in 1999. It appears it is what perhaps is going on here. What does that mean exactly?
HAGER: Well, the O-ring is an extra seal. I mean, that makes a seal. And, in this case, we‘re talking about the hydraulic system, which is fluids that move the equipment in the airplane.
And, as Tom explained, this airplane is operated more by electronics than hydraulics. But, evidently, there‘s still hydraulic power that is involved in letting down that landing gear. That little description makes it sound as though the landing gear does some rotating in its normal—in the normal function of letting it down and pulling it back up, that there‘s some kind of rotating involved there to get it down into the correct position. And, in this case, it sounds like, because there was a leak in the O-ring and the hydraulic fluid wasn‘t forcing it to do what it was supposed to do, then it hung up and it didn‘t make the turn it was supposed to turn—supposed to make. That‘s what I‘m guessing from that description.
STEWART: All right.
Bob Hager, your guesses on aviation are better than most. Thank you so much. We appreciate you being with us. And we are going to...
HAGER: Boy, look at that shot right there, Alison. You can really see it there, how that is—that is sideways to the plane. Boy, that sure shows you the problem.
STEWART: It is a very, very clear picture. We see a flight...
HAGER: But, also, you can see how flimsy that front gear is. So, again, that‘s the hope, is that that just snaps off and doesn‘t become a factor in steering the plane when he finally lets the front down.
STEWART: All right.
And I want to ask you one more question about the Airbus in general. We have been all discussing that it is a fairly safe plane. When did the Airbus 320 really become a popular modern plane for a modern company like JetBlue?
HAGER: I think the—long before JetBlue was ever founded, the A-320 became a very popular model. And my recollection is that the A-320 was meant to offset the very, very popular Boeing 737, which forms the preponderant number of planes in the American fleet.
And so, Boeing developed this plane to try to match that, and they‘ve done very, very well with it. So, it has been Airbus‘ equivalent of the 737. And it has been a very popular plane and in widespread use.
STEWART: And, in terms of this—and thank you so much. Bob Hager, thank you so much for joining us.
We‘re going to be joined now by Bill Tracey. I believe he is an airline pilot with America West.
Bill, can you hear me?
BILL TRACEY, AMERICA WEST PILOT: ... the Airbus and had this incident happen on a similar—on a 727.
STEWART: And, Bill, can you hear me?
TRACEY: Yes, ma‘am.
STEWART: Great. Thank you so much.
As you are watching this Flight 292, this JetBlue flight with this emergency landing issue with this nose gear, tell me your first thoughts.
TRACEY: Well, this is, as far as I know, the second time this has happened on an Airbus, as you all were earlier reporting.
And this actually happened to me on a 727 in 1989. We were unaware. It was that gear at landing when we put the gear down, that, apparently, it went sideways. And we didn‘t know it until we touched down. And the only thing that happened was, when we lowered the nose, it stayed at 90 degrees, incredible vibration, to where you couldn‘t focus on anything in the cockpit that even could see, a lot of dust in the cockpit just from—and we left a black streak right down the middle of the runway and came to a complete stop.
And we actually didn‘t even. We flattened the tires, but they still had air in them. And we just got towed to the gate. But the nosewheel never collapsed. The landing gear never collapsed. And any time you‘re landing like this, if the nosewheel doesn‘t come down, it is always better to than with the mains down than nothing at all, because, first of all, that‘s the strongest part of the airplane, is the landing gear.
So, if you can—any time you can land on the main landing gear, it
is better than landing wheels up, so to speak. Plus, it‘s less chance of
any fire. And, even if this nosewheel
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