Guests: Bill Tracey, Al Haynes, Howard Averill
ALISON STEWART, MSNBC ANCHOR: All right, Bill Tracey, airline pilot, we‘re going to ask you to hold just for a moment because we‘ve hit the top of the hour here at MSNBC world headquarters.
It is 9:00 o‘clock on the East Coast, 6:00 PM on the West Coast, where this story has been developing for the past two hours and 45 minutes. This is Jetblue airliner 292, took off from Burbank airport at 3:17 PM local time. It was headed for John F. Kennedy airport. And shortly after takeoff, the pilots radioed in a distress signal that they had a problem with the front nosegear, that it apparently had rotated some 90 degrees.
For a while, it was being decided where this plane would land. Would it land at Long Beach? Would it go back to Burbank? It was ultimately decided this plane would be diverted to Los Angeles International Airport because it does have the longest and some of the widest runways in the area. It‘s an Airbus 320. Jetblue‘s public information officer is telling us there are 140 passengers on board, 6 crew.
We have on the phone with us Bill Tracey. He is an airline pilot. He had to deal with a similar situation on a 727 back in 1989. And Bill, Bob Hager, who is an aviation expert with NBC News, was describing that pilots get quite a bit of training on what to do when the landing gear, the main landing gear malfunctions. Could you tell us a little bit about that kind of training?
BILL TRACEY, AIRLINE PILOT: Well, we do practice that in the simulator. Obviously, you can‘t do it in the airplane. We do have instances that we practice emergency evacuations, and that‘s one of the scenarios they give you is that the gear will collapse after landing. There‘s been instances where a plane has landed only on the nosegear, one main gear, and they were able to maintain it on the runway. However, you know, there‘s really no real way to practice it, you know, in the simulator. It‘s still a simulation.
As far as fuel, this airplane does not have the capability to dump fuel. On a cross-country flight like this, they‘re burning approximately 6,000 pounds an hour on a four-and-a-half to 5-hour flight, depending on the wind. So they probably have 35,000 pounds of fuel on the airplane. So there‘s—at this altitude, with the gear down and the flaps out, they‘re probably burning about 9,000 pounds an hour. So they‘ve got plenty of fuel. They could sit up there probably for another hour-and-a-half, two hours minimum. Whether they‘re going to do that or not, I don‘t know.
STEWART: And in your opinion, would they burn out as much fuel as possible? Is that the safest thing to do at this point? Or is it better to get that plane on the ground?
TRACEY: Well, with 144 people on board and that much fuel, at the very least, they‘d want to burn down to the minimum landing weight. And so once they get to the—excuse me, the maximum landing weight. Once they get to that point, then they know the airplane‘s been certified to land at that particular weight. Certainly, the lighter the better. But at some point, you got to say it‘s time to land.
They certainly don‘t want to wait until it‘s dark. I‘m in the Mountain Time Zone, and it‘s pretty much00 the sun‘s already set here. So they probably only got about another 45 minutes of real good, usable daylight left, so I‘m sure they‘d want to land during the daytime.
STEWART: And can you fill me in on how important the weather conditions are, or in terms of wind, when you have to make a landing like this with compromised gear?
TRACEY: Yes, well, actually, the more wind the better, as long as it‘s down the runway because the slower the actual ground speed is when you touch down. So normal weight at—the speed of touchdown would approximately be 135 or 140 knots, say 150 to 160 miles an hour. If you have a 20 mile-an-hour wind going down the runway, you just take 20 miles per hour off that speed. So the slower, the better.
STEWART: And in terms of this runway, we‘re saying—we‘re getting information that it‘s runway 25 in LAX and it‘s possibly up to 10,000 feet long. What do you make of those numbers? Is that the best they can do?
TRACEY: Oh, yes. That‘s the longest runway in that area by far, other than Edwards Air Force Base. And that‘s the longest runway at LAX, and that‘s the runway that they normally use for takeoffs and land—you know, landings..
STEWART: And in a situation like this, there‘s obviously communication with the tower. As a pilot, can you tell us what kind of communication would be going on between the pilots on this plane and the tower at LAX?
TRACEY: Well, the first thing they did, I‘m sure they did a fly-by and confirmed that, yes, there is a gear problem and that it is 90 degrees to the—to the airplane, so—other than that, the tower would just—they‘re probably talking to approach control, and they would just tell them to go out and fly a certain pattern out of the way of all the other takeoff and landings at LAX and keep them out of the way. And then when they‘re ready to come, they‘ll vector them around. They‘ll get all the other traffic, obviously, off that runway and out of—and no other traffic will land behind them because, at the very minimum, they‘re going to have to tow this airplane to the gate.
So I‘m sure it‘s—you know, they won‘t decide whether they‘re going to need to evacuate until after the airplane is on the ground and they see whether, A, the gear collapsed, whether it‘s just a matter of blowing the tires, any of those situations. They‘re going to have to wait and see what happens.
STEWART: And tell me a little bit about the communication on board between the pilots and the flight attendants during a time like this, during a time when you make an emergency landing.
TRACEY: Well, they‘ll tell them—they‘ll go throughout procedures with the flight attendants. The flight attendants have their own manual that they go through for—this would be considered an emergency landing. They‘ll tell the passengers to brace right before landing. The pilots will tell the flight attendants, OK, we‘re five minutes from landing. We‘re one minute from landing. At that time, the flight attendants will tell the passengers to brace and be ready.
After landing, then the captain will determine, with help from the outside emergency vehicles, whether there is a fire, whether—the condition of the airplane, and then he‘ll determine—he‘ll either say everything‘s under control or evacuate. And at that time, the flight attendants will open the doors, and there‘s—the slides on this airplane, once they open the doors in the armed position, they will deploy automatically, and then the passengers will slide down the slides onto the runway.
STEWART: And we hope it ends in that fashion and just that plainly and simply. Bill Tracey...
TRACEY: Yes, well, it—the—you know, the best-case scenario—and I‘m sure—you know, I feel confident it will probably happen—is that they‘ll come to a complete stop, and they‘ll just be towed to the gate. It won‘t be necessary to evacuate at all because any time there is evacuation, there‘s someone that always falls and slips, you know, breaks an ankle or something to that nature. But I mean, ideally, they‘ll land and then be towed to the gate, and that‘ll be the end of it.
STEWART: All right, Bill Tracey, airline pilot, we thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us as we continue to watch this flight. Thank you so much, sir.
TRACEY: Thank you. Bye-bye.
STEWART: Once again, if you are just joining us at eight minutes past the hour, this is Jetblue airline 292. That‘s the flight. It departed Burbank this afternoon 3:17 local time. And on the right side of your screen, you can see what the issue is. The nosegear, the landing gear on this plane has somehow twisted and torqued about 90 degrees to the right. The pilot called in a distress signal. It was discussed where this plane would ultimately land. It has been decided that it will land in Los Angeles at LAX.
We‘ve got many people following this story along with us. Bob Hager, as well as George Lewis. I thin we‘ve got Bob on the line here.
Bob, as you were listening to that pilot, Bill Tracey, his description of this whole scene, of landing that plane the first time it happened to him back in 1989, he said the vibrations were just enormous, but that that front wheel didn‘t collapse.
Bob? Is Bob there? And we‘re going to work on getting some of our reporters up and on the line so that we can discuss this with them.
To the right of your screen, we believe that is LAX as they are preparing for this plane to land. Jetblue has told us that this is going to happen very shortly. That plane has been in the air since about 3:17. And we were discussing with the pilot earlier who had a similar situation happen to him back in 1989. He told us that for flights like this, this flight 292 -- it‘s an Airbus 320 -- for a cross-country flight, it‘s probably got about 35,000 pounds of fuel on that plane, and they burn about 6,000 pounds an hour. However, this plane does not—is not capable of doing what we all know as a fuel dump, as dumping of fuel over the ocean. It had been reported earlier the plane was being sent out over the Pacific to do that, but that wasn‘t correct. Obviously, this is a developing story, and a lot of this information comes in drips.
What this plane has been doing for the better part of, oh, gosh, going on three hours now—and one more time, we want to let you know, this is Jetblue flight 292. They‘ve been flying at a lower altitude and trying to burn off as much of that fuel as they get ready to approach LAX. The public information officer from Jetblue is letting us know that there are 140 passengers on board and 6 crew.
The Airbus has had a very good record up until this point. However, Tom Costello, NBC‘s Tom Costello, did some reporting for us, a little bit of digging, and found out that a similar incident happened very much like this back in 1999 in Columbus, Ohio. The good news out of that issue was when that plane landed, there were no injuries, is what we‘re also all hoping for this afternoon and what all of our experts predict will happen. During that incident in 1999, very similar, a fly-by revealed the nose wheels had rotated 90 degrees from the direction of landing, exactly what we‘re seeing right here with this Jetblue flight.
I‘m going to read you the text of what the examination found of that plane. “The 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.” And as Bob Hager deciphered that for us into English, basically, that the o-ring, a sort of a seal, must have cracked, and some sort of fluid, hydraulic fluid, was not able to do what it was supposed to do, and therefore the wheels rotated.
Once again, this is Jetblue flight 292. It is approaching Los Angeles airport. NBC‘s George Lewis is at the airport. George, fill us in.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Pardon the noise-canceling mike, but as we look down at runway 25 left—Bruce (ph), could you pan over there and get the fire equipment starting its parade toward the west side of that runway? This is the southernmost runway at LAX, the longest runway at LAX. And we now see fire equipment assembling to wait for the landing of that Jetblue flight. The trucks are all proceeding to the west end of the runway.
The plane will be landing from east to west into the prevailing winds at LAX. This runway, 25 left, is the longest runway at LAX. And right now, flight operations are still continuing. We‘re seeing a Fedex cargo plane taking off now. So they haven‘t halted flight operations just yet, which leads us to believe that maybe the landing of Jetblue is a little ways off yet, as they assemble the fire equipment to get into the position for this emergency landing.
The reason the flight was diverted from Long Beach to LAX is that the runways are much longer here and they‘ve got a greater concentration of firefighting equipment and personnel here at LAX. They know how to deal with these kinds of emergencies, and they‘ve got enough manpower to handle the situation, they believe.
So everyone is awaiting the emergency landing of the Jetblue plane, as it continues to burn off fuel. As we noted before, that type of Airbus doesn‘t have the capability to just dump fuel. Older planes would have gone out over the Pacific Ocean and dumped fuel, but his Jetblue plane has to burn off fuel, revving up its engines and using as much drag as possible to burn the fuel most rapidly. Obviously, they want to save enough fuel for a safe landing, but they don‘t want to land with a lot of fuel on board. And since that plane took off from Burbank en route to JFK in New York, it was fully loaded with fuel for a five-hour flight. So that was a concern as they‘re burning off the fuel now—Alison.
STEWART: And George, could you give us a little bit of the layout of where this runway is, compared to the main part of LAX? Is it far away, or is it just part of the normal operations?
LEWIS: There are four parallel runways at LAX, two to the north of the terminal area, two to the south. This is the southernmost runway. The terminal—for people who‘ve used LAX, they‘re familiar with the horseshoe arrangement of the eight terminals at LAX. Those are in the middle of the four runways, and then this one is to the far south. There is an older terminal called the Imperial terminal that is being used as a staging area for the fire department, and they‘re putting the equipment in that general area now—Alison.
STEWART: George Lewis, thank you so much. I appreciate it so much.
We have on the phone Captain Haynes. He was the pilot of United flight 232. He has been watching along as this plane is making its approaching to LAX. And Captain Haynes, you were in a very similar situation. Tell us what pilot‘s doing right now.
AL HAYNES, RETIRED UNITED AIRLINES PILOT: Well, they‘ve done everything they can as far as preparation, with their checklist and their maintenance department and their dispatch department. They‘ve gotten the cabin as prepared as they can. The flight attendants have done that. Now it‘s just a matter of going in and making what would be, in most cases, a routine landing—that is, landing on the two main gear.
But once they‘re on the ground, then the problem is, What do they do now? If they lower the nose down, is it going to canter (ph) and straighten itself out, which I‘ve heard it has done before? Is it going to sheer off? If it sheers—it‘s designed to sheer under stress. So if they don‘t—if it doesn‘t canter or straighten itself out, it‘ll probably sheer off, and then they‘ll just lower it down on its nose.
The problem with the crew is determining what speed they want to lower the nose. They don‘t want it down too fast. They don‘t want to hold it up too long so it drops. They want to put it down under control. And that‘s something that they don‘t experiment with. I mean, they don‘t practice. And so it‘s just kind of like us, it‘s a matter of guessing what the right speed is, with the best help they can get from their maintenance department.
STEWART: And Captain Haynes, for folks who might be in their minds thinking, I know I remember this flight number, this United flight, can you remind people of what happened to you?
HAYNES: Well, we had—a number two engine exploded and knocked out all our hydraulics, and we had no flight controls. We had no ailerons or rudders or anything else. All we could do is steer the airplane by power. We were in a similar situation, as far as we had nice weather, we had a good airport. We had a well-prepared emergency crew. Our only problem is we had no way to steer the airplane, so we were very—I don‘t know how we did it yet. We were very fortunate to get the airplane to the airport and to the runway.
This crew has the advantage, if you want to call it that, of having
the same thing. They‘ve got the good weather. They‘ve got a well-prepared
emergency response crew waiting for them. Their advantage is they do have
their flight controls, so they can fly around as necessary. If they don‘t
like this approach, I‘m sure they‘ve saved enough fuel that if they don‘t -
they get out of position, they‘re not happy or completely comfortable with the approach, they can go around.
And it looks like they‘re getting pretty close to the ground right now.
STEWART: All right. I‘m going to keep you on the phone, Captain Haynes, and you can walk us through this, as Jetblue flight 292 on its final approach for an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
This whole scene started just about three hours ago when this plane took off at 3:17 PM out of Burbank airport. It was destined for New York City, for John F. Kennedy Airport. However, the pilots radioed in a distress that they had an issue with their nose landing gear. You see it there on the front. It had rotated. The plane was then diverted back to Los Angeles International Airport, to runway 25 left. It‘s the longest runway at LAX, some 10,000 feet long. On that plane right now, 140 passengers.
Let‘s listen in to the chopper overhead.
This plane is about one mile out at this time, preparing to make a landing. Most of our aviation experts expect this will be a safe landing. Of course, that‘s what everyone hopes. The last time this happened to an Airbus, it was indeed a safe landing. There were no injuries. That happened back in 1999 in Columbus, Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s the harbor freeway?
STEWART: Listening into KNBC chopper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is. Threshold! Set it up to touch it down on the mains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re going to keep going at LAX We‘d like to keep going here. We‘re approaching the airport. I‘m passing the airport and continuing to LAX. It didn‘t even collapse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ed Hawthorne (ph), TV-4. We‘re just going to keep going into LAX. We‘d just like to keep going here. We‘re approaching the airport. I‘d like to pass the airport boundary and then continue to LAX.
It didn‘t even collapse!
STEWART: And it appears to be the ending that we were all hoping for.
Flight 292 Jetblue has landed at LAX safely.
Captain al Haynes is joining us on the phone. Captain Haynes, what do you think?
HAYNES: I think it‘s an amazing job by the crew and a tremendous
design and airplane by Airbus to have it do that. I never dreamed the gear
would just melt down like that. I thought sure it would collapse. The
pilots did a superb job. They‘re right in the middle of the runway, just
right where they should be. I doubt they‘ll even evacuate the passengers
now. And that—I wouldn‘t, if I were me, as long as the fire department
(INAUDIBLE) sure there‘s no fire because people are injured evacuating out
of perfectly safe airplanes. And this is a perfectly safe airplane now, so
there‘s not even a fire.
It‘s just unbelievable. If you look at that center of that nosewheel, it‘s right on the white line. It‘s right in the middle of the runway. They couldn‘t have done a better job. Jetblue should be extremely proud of their crew, and Airbus should be extremely proud of their airplane. It‘s just fantastic job.
STEWART: Are you surprised that that front wheel didn‘t collapse?
That was what a lot of people thought would happen.
HAYNES: I am. I‘m surprised that it stood up. Obviously, it was down and locked. And it was locked down. If it was not locked down, it would have collapsed. But it must have been—the pilots were holding very light pressure on it as long as they possibly could, and it just managed to stay together. I‘m surprised. I am surprised it stayed up, but obviously, it was an extremely good job of landing by the crew.
STEWART: And Captain Haynes, explain to us what we‘re about to see on the left side of the screen there. Walk us through this.
HAYNES: Well, as he touches down—oh, my cell phone‘s ringing. Let me make sure it‘s not my daughter (INAUDIBLE) worried about me.
STEWART: Understandable. This is flight 292 just moments ago. It has landed. And Captain Al Haynes is joining us on the phone, walking us through what these pilots just accomplished.
HAYNES: Well, they just made the perfect landing on the main gear, and they‘re very slowly under control putting the gear down. If you‘ll notice, it‘s right on that white line. That‘s the center line of the runway, and that nosegear is almost directly on that line.
And now the tire‘s down. He‘s got a little bit—almost not full pressure on it because it‘s only on the back tire right now. But as he comes down on the front tire, the weight comes on the front tire, they just burn, but—and they just grind off and it grinds right down to the strut. It just—and he‘s right in the center of the runway. He couldn‘t have done any better. They‘re doing a great job of keeping it under control.
STEWART: And what do you think about the amount of time that they spent burning off fuel? Obviously, this plane had just taken off from southern California. It was headed to New York heavily loaded down with fuel, flew around for about three hours. Does that sound about the right amount of time? What do you think?
HAYNES: Well, I understand the A-320 can‘t dump fuel. I thought they could. I don‘t know. I‘m not that familiar with the airplane.
STEWART: No, they cannot.
STEWART: We discovered that.
HAYNES: Yes. Then it was just a matter of flying around until they burn out (INAUDIBLE) because that‘s why they were flying around with their gear and their flaps down. That burns down a tremendous amount of fuel and would save a lot of time by flying around with all that drag on the airplane.
STEWART: I can‘t imagine the pressure these pilots must have been under and the pressure you must have been under in your situation with United flight 232 losing an engine. What went through your mind?
HAYNES: Well, your mind is—what is the next thing you do keep this thing in the sky? And their particular thing is, What is the next thing they do to try and get this nosewheel straightened up. They had their flight controls, so they could fly around and try to figure it out. And so the thought on their mind was, What are we going to do? How are we going handle this? And what‘s going to happen when we land?
And that‘s probably the only thing the pilots were thinking about. Of course, they‘re concerned about their passengers and their flight attendants. Of course. But their main concern is getting the airplane on the ground as safely as they could. And they did just an outstanding job.
STEWART: All right, Captain, I‘m going to ask you to hang on for just a minute. I just want to reset the scene and get as much information to our viewers as possible.
It‘s 9:23 on the East Coast, 6:23 on the West Coast, where this story has been developing for the better part of three hours. You‘re looking at Jetblue flight 292. This flight has been in distress for the past three hours. The captain—see him right there? -- he had radioed in that his nosegear had turned at a right degree angle. He requested an emergency landing. They were discussing which airports to go to. Ultimately, decided to land at LAX, on this runway 25 L. It‘s 11,000 feet long.
One of the big issues we were discussing about this Airbus is Jetblue
being a very modern airline, if you‘ve ever flown Jetblue, you know that there‘s a television set. They have DirecTV on the back of every seat. And indeed, news channels, including this one, are broadcast upon the planes. We have been confirmed by a passenger who has contacted NBC News to say that television sets on board the plane were indeed turned off during this whole ordeal, and you can obviously understand why.
We‘ve been talking to a lot of aviation experts, as well as officials on the ground out at LAX. They had 110 firefighters on the ground prepared, should something happen to this plane. But thankfully, it landed perfectly safe at 6:19 local time.
We‘ve been joined by Captain Al Haynes. He had to land United flight 232 in an extraordinary emergency situation. And Captain, you made an interesting point that quite often, during the evacuation process, people often get hurt.
HAYNES: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: That usually happens. Why is that, because of panic? Is it because of the slides not deploying or...
HAYNES: Well, it‘s just that going down the slide, people don‘t go down the way they‘re supposed to. They get in a hurry or they jump and they don‘t put their feet straight out or they slip off the side of the slide or—I don‘t know. I‘ve never been involved in an evacuation. It seems like every time you have one, there‘s a broken arm or a broken ankle or scratches and bruises, things like that, where now they‘re going to walk off, just like they would at the terminal, except instead of having a jetway, they‘ve got stairs to go down. And they‘ll get into buses and take them back to the terminal and probably ship them back to—and they‘ll take another flight to New York.
STEWART: Well, of course, we‘re so happy that it‘s ending this way. In terms of the pilots, at this point, and an investigation, what is next for them? Will they be taken and questioned and the like?
HAYNES: Right. The National Transportation Safety Board will interview them and find out exactly what they went through, what they discovered, how they discovered it. There‘s—I don‘t see that there‘s any way here that the pilots can take any blame for this at all. It‘s obviously a mechanical malfunction. But they did everything they could. But the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, must interview them. That‘s required.
STEWART: And usually, how long does an investigation like that take?
HAYNES: Well, since the airplane is in good shape, I would imagine they could come up with an answer within probably a month because they‘re going to examine everything very—they don‘t have to put the airplane back together. That‘s the main thing. All they have to do is examine the nosewheel and find out why it didn‘t center. And once they determine that, then basically, the investigation will be over as to—you know, all we need to know is just why didn‘t it center. Once they do that, then they‘ll find out how to fix it.
STEWART: One of the things that was very interesting that we heard from one of our reporters here is that, obviously, the pilots on the plane, as well as the tower, were in contact with Airbus, trying to find out as much as they could about this kind of plane and what kind of mechanical issues. When you‘re in a distress situation like this, as a pilot, are you troubleshooting, or are you just trying to figure out how to get the plane on the ground safely?
HAYNES: Well, there‘s only so much you can do in the cockpit as far as troubleshooting goes. There‘s just not that much you can do. In this particular case, he tried to raise the gear, it didn‘t work. Why didn‘t it work? You don‘t know. But you would troubleshoot as best you could, along with the maintenance base. I‘m sure you have—Jetblue has the same facility that United does, a team of experts on every system on the aircraft. They‘re all together. They‘re all talking with the crew. They‘re talking with the dispatcher, talking with everyone else. They‘re just a big—and they had three hours to work this thing out, and they couldn‘t solve the problem. So the only thing the pilots could do is land the airplane. And I can‘t say—they just couldn‘t have done a better job.
STEWART: It was pretty extraordinary to watch. Captain Al Haynes, the man who piloted United flight 232 when it had to make a very similar landing after losing an engine—actually, it‘s a very serious situation. And as you said, you don‘t know how you did it, but you did it. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us here at MSNBC.
HAYNES: My pleasure. Thank you.
STEWART: It‘s 28 minutes after the hour. And just to recap, this has been an extraordinary afternoon, as we‘ve watched this story develop.
There you go. You see people starting to deplane off this flight 292. I have been—these are the passengers getting off of the plane. And we‘ve been told by some of the passengers—believe it or not, someone had their Blackberry, and they sent us a message, letting us know that they turned off the television sets. Jetblue, if you‘ve ever flown, you know that each seat has its own private television. It‘s a DirecTV service and you can get many, many channels, including MSNBC. And, in fact, they turned off the TV sets at about 5:30 or so. So these passengers have very little information from the news networks about what has been going on.
But as you can imagine, they‘re very happy to be deplaning off Jetblue flight 292. All these folks—there you see a wave. These folks were all headed to New York City on Jetblue. They were out of Burbank, California, late afternoon, was expected to be a five-hour flight or so. Our experts tell us this plane probably had about 35,000 pounds of fuel. And on a cross-country trip, it would burn about 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour.
That, of course, became an issue because when this plane took off out of Burbank, the problem with the nosegear was discovered almost immediately, and the plane was rerouted to Los Angeles airport. But obviously, it was a plane full of fuel. And this Airbus 320, which we‘ve learned does not dump fuel, cannot dump fuel, so it was up to the pilots to try to burn as much as possible, so that should, indeed, this landing not have gone as smoothly as it had, the plane would not have that highly flammable substance. However, they had all of the important personnel on the ground should something have gone wrong. We talked with Jim Wells, a spokesperson from the Los Angeles Fire Department. He told me about 110 firefighters were on the ground as well as so many other officials from the area, and we‘re happy to report that their biggest job right now is helping people walk off this plane, after a pretty harrowing three hours as you can imagine. NBC‘s Bob Hager had been with us throughout the better part of these two hours helping us understand some of these aviation issues. Let me just start with the simple question, Bob, what did you think of the landing?
BOB HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Oh man, that was just something to watch. First of all, let me just say isn‘t it wonderful to watch those people coming off the plane like that? How emotional, I mean. Imagine what they‘ve been through, as you said, for three hours of flying around up there not knowing what was going to happen, and here they are coming off—not down an emergency ramp or chute or anything like that, but right down the steps on that happy and safe landing.
It was a wonderful job of airmanship. It‘s remarkable to me, I mean, you think of this is an age of automation, and these planes, when they don‘t have a problem, you press a button and they can land themselves. This time, this was a problem that is different. It‘s very unusual. It required a lot of skilled airmanship, similar to what Al Haynes whom you were talking to there, went through landing his plane back in the late 1980‘s.
A wonderful job of airmanship. And you saw him bring that in. We talked all night about how you‘ve got to land the gear, the plane on it‘s main landing gear. A very powerful strong set of gear. Keep the nose up, as long as you can, until the very last moment. I counted, I think it was between 20 and 30 seconds after the main landing gear hit that he coasted that plane down the runway with the nose still high so the front gear wasn‘t touching. So 20 or 30 seconds go by until he finally, gently let that nose gear down. And then it hit.
And then we heard from that other pilot who called in about having gone through a similar experience way 727 how he had experienced buffeting in the cockpit. And I‘ll bet—I mean, we couldn‘t see it through the long shot that you can get from outside the plane, but they must have really felt that in the cockpit and in the plane. I‘m sure there was a lot of vibration, because you‘re landing sideways on that front landing gear.
But as you saw, the gear held up. It didn‘t collapse. In this case, that turned out to be good. The tires collapsed. They quickly went with a lot of friction and fire around the tires themselves. But the metal of the landing gear held, so the tires dissipated. They‘re gone. And he‘s flying along just on the steel of the apparatus that holds the tires there on the front landing gear, and that holds its place perfectly. He keeps the nose straight. He doesn‘t veer off the runway at all, and the plane came to a stop.
And also when you saw all that brightness in the fire from the friction and all, you see the importance of burning off the fuel. Now, the fuel is well separated from all that, because it‘s back there in the wing engines of the wings. But as you see the brightness there, you don‘t want a lot of aviation fuel around that, because aviation fuel is very, very volatile, and that‘s why they burned it all of before they landed.
STEWART: Certainly, when you saw the sparks, you just held your breath, and hoped that they would just die out as they did as we‘re watching right here.
HAGER: Oh. Absolutely. You‘re absolutely right. That‘s what you do. You hold your breath and watch that. You hold your breath through the whole thing, but, I mean, he just did a magnificent job of landing it. He really did.
STEWART: All right. Bob Hager, I‘m going to ask you to just hold on for one second. There were 140 passengers aboard this plane, and we‘ve just learned that some NBC Universal personnel were actually aboard the plane. So we‘re trying to get them on the phone hopefully, and we can get a firsthand account of what happened on JetBlue flight 292.
Bob Hager has been very kind, and so very helpful in walking us through a lot of the aviation issues, when you have an emergency landing like this. And, Bob, now that the plane has landed and the investigation will start, can you give me a little laundry list of questions you think that will be asked?
HAGER: Well, there are two things to determine. No. 1, why did it happen? That‘s by part most important. If we know now from what‘s developed during the coverage here tonight, there‘s been at least two other cases, one in an A-320 and one in a 727 where this kind of thing has happened before. Were there any similarities between those incidents and this incident. What is it that‘s happening here? Why does that occur? So that‘s by part most important part of this investigation. Is strictly a mechanical one. What went wrong in there? And they‘ve got the flight data recorder to help them with that, the crew to some extent. But the crew, I don‘t think, in the cockpit will be real helpful in knowing—they‘ll know what they experienced in the cockpit, but they don‘t know what the mechanical explanation is for why this thing twisted as they let it down—or as they tried to pull it up or as they let it down when they were taking off.
Secondly, the other important thing of the investigation would be how they dealt with it. So now we know this is at least a third case of this, and all three cases have had a successful outcome. So it‘s important to know what was in the pilot‘s minds. I mean, what did they do? And that, I think, is largest evident to us, keeping the nose high. But it‘ll be important to know just what speed they determined on for landing and so forth.
STEWART: And, Bob, I‘m going to ask you to hold on, because NBC‘s George Lewis is on the scene. He‘s got a firsthand account. We want to get to him—George.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It was one of those breathless moments as that plane came in with the nose wheel turned 90 degrees to the normal angle. People up here on this highway bridge overlooking the southern most runway at L.A.X. were all just holding their breaths. And I‘m sure a few were murmuring prayers for the safety of the 139 passengers aboard that plane and the crew.
It was a flawless landing. It‘s something that pilots practice for, but the pilot brought the plane in very gently on the main landing gear waiting until the last possible moment to bring that nose wheel down. Then we saw a huge plume of smoke as the rubber from that nose wheel scraped against the runway. The reason they used this runway 25 left, it‘s the longest runway at L.A.X. It‘s the southern most runway.
They had plenty of firefighting equipment in place. We saw the fire trucks roaring down the side of the runway just as the plane was getting ready to turn onto its final approach into L.A.X. And a few minutes later, it came down without incident. Now, we‘re told the passengers are getting off in a normal manner. They didn‘t have to deploy the chutes. They put air stairs up next to the plane, and they got off in a normal manner. They‘re getting off now, as we speak—Alison.
STEWART: All right. George Lewis, who‘s been at L.A.X. for us. That was George Lewis reporting on the scene. Thank you so much.
This is the picture from moments ago, it‘s a great picture to replay and replay, because it has a happy ending. This is JetBlue flight 292, which left Burbank 3:17 in the afternoon. Shortly after takeoff, the pilots reported the problem, you see it right there. The nose gear torqued, twisted 90 degrees to the right. They did report that it was locked, but realized that they had a big problem on their hands. They then radioed in distress. There was a discussion about where to send this plane, and it was ultimately decided that this plane be redirected to Los Angeles International Airport. And as George Lewis reported for us earlier, it‘s because it does have the longest runway in the area, some 11,000 feet, this 25 left.
The plane circled for the better part of three hours attempting to burn off what one pilot guessed for a cross country trip would have been about 35,000 pounds of fuel. About three hours into it, pilot brought that plane in for that amazing landing, that safe landing. That 110 firefighters on the ground, their job right now is simply to help people deplane down a stairway, as opposed to foaming a runway, and having to deal with a much bigger issue. There were 140 passengers on this plane, 6 crew members, and we do believe that there were personnel—we know there were personnel from NBC Universal aboard that plane.
We actually got some information via, believe it or not, a blackberry that—the television sets that are on those JetBlue planes, I don‘t know if you‘ve ever been in one of these air buses, but there‘s—it‘s an all leather seat. There‘s no first class. The idea is that everybody should fly first class, and there-s a first—each seat has its own television. They have Direct TV. And you get all sorts of great things on the Direct TV, but you also get the great thing of cable news, including this channel.
Apparently, the TV sets were turned off at about 5:30, so that obviously those on board would not become alarmed in this situation as the plane was about to make an emergency landing, which it did at 6:19 local time, just about three hours and two minutes after it took off.
We‘ve talked to pilots all afternoon. We talked to former members of the NTSB. We‘ve also talked to Bob Hager, who obviously has been reporting on aviation, and is pretty much an expert in this field. And, Bob, it‘s great, first of all, we said it earlier, but I think we should say it again. It‘s great to see this ending.
HAGER: Oh my gosh. It‘s just—it‘s wonderful. Because you know, you wanted to be a little careful during the reporting because you didn‘t know if people on the airplane had their TV set on. So, didn‘t want to be too alarmist. But certainly this was a very, very alarming situation. And particularly, because it was so unusual. And there‘s so many things that could go wrong with the front landing gear, the tires sideways to the plane like that. Easily, it could have flipped the plane over. It could have flipped it to one side where a wing scrapes and then the plane tumbles. It could have steered the plane off the runway and into the grass there which would have been a terrible thing.
So, this was a very, very touchy situation. And just what a wonderful job by the crew in landing that plane.
One other thing, I think I‘m seeing in some of those high shots there, looks to me like they‘re pretty close to the end of the runway...
STEWART: Bob, I have to stop you for just a moment. I‘ll get back to you in just a moment. We have Todd Schwartz on the phone. He was on board JetBlue flight 292. And, Todd, first of all, how are you feeling? Are you all right?
TODD SCHWARTZ, JETBLUE FLIGHT 292 PASSENGER: We‘re all very excited.
There‘s a lot of happy people here.
STEWART: I can imagine. When did you first find out there was trouble with the flight? What did the captain say?
SCHWARTZ: About 10 minutes after takeoff, he said that there was some problem with the landing gear. They were investigating it. And that he was going to get back to us. And we were circling over Lancaster.
STEWART: All right. And, Todd, just so we know, where are you right now?
SCHWARTZ: I‘m actually on the bus just off of the plane. Sitting on the tarmac at L.A.X.
STEWART: All right so you‘re just out of our view on the screen as the camera pulls out. We‘ll see the bus you‘re actually sitting on.
SCHWARTZ: Number 36.
STEWART: So, 10 minutes after takeoff, the pilot comes on and says we‘re having trouble with the landing gear. When was the next time you heard from him? And what did he say?
SCHWARTZ: He said that they were checking with New York, the landing gear had sensors and they could check, you know, what was going on with the plane at various service points. And they had a he censor saying there was an issue with the landing gear. They weren‘t sure. They thought it might be a sensor issue.
And then probably 20 minutes later, he said he was going to take us to Long Beach where they can put us on another plane and do a flyby of the control tower at a very low altitude. We were about 200 feet where they would use binoculars and take a look at the wheels.
Then about 15 minutes later, they came on and said the landing gear was down, but the front landing gear was turned about 90 degrees and that is why it wasn‘t going back up. And they could not get us to go back up. And that they would—was figuring out what to do and they they‘d be working on it and we‘d be circling for awhile. Which is what happened.
STEWART: And as you were circling, what did you and the other passengers talk about? Did you discuss the issue at all or...?
SCHWARTZ: Well, we actually were watching MSNBC. You were the first on the scene with the coverage. We have the Direct TV‘s on the flight.
But, yes, we were all discussing the issue. We were getting something good information from MSNBC as well between the pilot updates. The crew was also making preparations for the landing. They were shifting people to the back of the plane so it‘d be heavier in the back. They were moving whatever luggage was in the front that they could to the back of the plane to lighten the front end.
And I happened to be sitting in the emergency exit row. And so they were going through the procedures for opening the emergency exit doors and going down the ramp.
STEWART: I bet when you sat down in that seat and they asked you, are you prepared to do this you didn‘t expect you might really have to do it?
SCHWARTZ: That‘s correct.
STEWART: What did you think in your mind‘s eye? Hey, I‘m sitting in the emergency exit row. I might have to take the lead here.
SCHWARTZ: That‘s right. We might actually get to open the door. Which I have always tried to sit in the exit row—and in fact at the last minute was able to get the exit row before I got on the plane.
So, we were prepared. We had some very good passengers at each of the exit row doors. Everybody was very calm and prepared to do what we had to do.
STEWART: All right. And tell me at what point did they decide to turn off the televisions?
SCHWARTZ: About three to four minutes before landing, they shut down the televisions and they turned off the air-conditioning as well.
STEWART: OK, Todd, we thank you so much for phoning in. We really appreciate it. And we‘re all very happy that and you all the passengers were able to just simply walk off that JetBlue flight. I know you‘ve had a really harrowing day.
SCHWARTZ: Yes, ma‘am.
STEWART: Thanks so much.
And also on the phone right now, we have Howard Averill, another NBC Universal employee who was also on that plane. Howard, where are you right now?
HOWARD AVERILL, NBC UNIVERSAL EMPLOYEE: I‘m on the bus. We just got off the plane and I‘m a bus waiting to go back to the terminal.
STEWART: And everybody‘s OK? You‘re OK?
AVERILL: Yes. Everyone is fine.
STEWART: OK. We heard Todd‘s account of what happened. I just want to get yours as well. When did you first find out that there was some kind issue? And what went through your mind when you heard it?
AVERILL: Well, at first it felt like it was about 20 or 25 minutes into the flight, when we could tell we started to circle. And the pilot came on to tell us there was an issue, but it didn‘t really sound very serious at first. It sounded like either the landing gear didn‘t come up or it didn‘t—or you, know, the signal light was just off. It didn‘t sound very serious at first.
STEWART: It just seemed like one of those pain things that you have to go through. Oh my flight is going back. I have to change a plane? That kind of thing initially?
AVERILL: I‘m sorry, I couldn‘t get that.
STEWART: It was one of those sorts of announcements you hear on the plane that, and you think oh gosh, I‘m going to be late. My flight is going to be diverted?
AVERILL: Exactly. I figured that they would have to—at worst case, you know, they talked about landing at Long Beach first and taking it to a maintenance facility there. I thought the worst case is we‘d land, switch planes and I‘d be on my way again within an hour. But obviously that didn‘t happen.
STEWART: When did you become aware, Howard, it was a bit more serious?
AVERILL: Actually I was watching the television. It was on MSNBC. And the coverage there kind of indicated—the coverage on television gave us a little bit more information than the pilot did, it felt like. Because you could actually see the pictures and watch the plane circling. That‘s when it became apparent when it was on television that it was a lot more serious.
STEWART: What kind of instructions did you get from the crew? How did they prepare you for this landing?
AVERILL: The crew was terrific. You know, they really kept everyone calm and just—I would say maybe 20 minutes before we came into the landing, they just kind of went through the trail of how to brace for landing and what to expect and not to panic and that we would get off within 90 seconds if we needed to. It was a great crew. They did a great job keeping everyone calm.
STEWART: And what was going through your mind as you were getting this information on how to prepare and how to crouch down and grab your knees, those kind of preparations that we all hear when we get on the plane and never think we‘re going to have to do this?
AVERILL: Yeah. You certainly get a little bit worried. And I think, you know, fortunately people on the plane really stayed calm, because I think it could have been a lot more nerve-racking if people had reacted differently. And again, I think that goes back to the crew from JetBlue that really—really kept people kind of thinking straight and not being overly concerned and panicked. So, it was—as you may have heard earlier, it‘s probably the smoothest landing I‘ve ever had in an airplane, believe it or not.
STEWART: It felt smooth, you said?
AVERILL: It was without question the smoothest landing I‘ve ever had.
STEWART: Well, that is certainly ironic given the situation and the condition of the nose gear. Did you get most of your information—once they turned the televisions off, did you get most of your information from the flight attendants or from the pilot?
AVERILL: The pilot. The pilot came on. But there wasn‘t really much more to tell at that point. He kind of indicated what had happened with the landing gear. He told us what was happening. And that we were going to be circling to burn off more fuel. So, there really wasn‘t much more news to be had other than right before we started at approach into L.A.X.
STEWART: And at this point, have they told you where they‘re taking you? Are they rediverting your flight? Are they going to interview you? What‘s going on?
AVERILL: They haven‘t told us anything about that yet. No information now.
STEWART: All right. And as you were watching all of this happen on the television, tell me what that was like to be on that plane and see your plane on MSNBC on JetBlue?
AVERILL: That was a very eerie feeling. I was surprised they kept the televisions on, frankly, because I think some people were getting a little upset. And you can see them shaking their head phones off and putting it away. Because I don‘t think they really wanted to hear or see. But it was definitely a strange feeling to know we were in that aircraft.
STEWART: You know, was it a full flight?
AVERILL: It was. I think there was five or six empty seats on the entire flight. It was pretty full.
STEWART: And I understand right before landing, they did some sort of redistribution of the passengers?
AVERILL: They did. They—well, it was more, there was a few children that were on the plane that I think they wanted to make sure they had seats near their parents. And they moved some of the baggage from the front of the aircraft to the back. It was just minor stuff.
I can tell you I‘m now moving on the bus. So, I may drop out on you here.
STEWART: All right. Howard Averill, is an NBC Universal employee who was on board flight 292. And he was kind enough to take some time to talk to us.
Now, is your home L.A. or is it New York? Were you going some place on business? What was going on?
AVERILL: Yeah. My home is in Los Angeles. And we were on our way to New York for some business meetings.
STEWART: And were you traveling with several other NBC employees?
AVERILL: Yeah. There‘s actually two other folks with me from the finance team here that were traveling together. And I‘m standing next to one of them. And I haven‘t seen—there was one of them that was in the front of the plane. And I haven‘t seen him since we‘ve landed. But I‘m sure I‘ll reunite with him in the terminal.
STEWART: And at this point, are you going to head towards New York?
AVERILL: If my wife lets me. I understand my wife is on the way to the airport. If she‘ll allow me, I‘m going to probably head on out tonight, yes.
STEWART: Well I‘m not so sure you‘re wife will let you go after what she‘s seen this afternoon. We‘re very happy that you and the rest of the NBC crew, as well as everybody aboard that plane, of course, has landed safely. Howard Averill, NBC Universal employee. Thank you so much, and we‘re glad you‘re safe.
AVERILL: Thank you, take care.
STEWART: Captain Al Haynes has been walking us through a lot of this coverage. He‘s been helping us understand what the pilots are going through during a time like this. He landed United Flight, I believe it was, 232. Had a very difficult landing after losing an engine. And he was on the air with us as this was happening. And, Captain, were you ever concerned about the sparks saw here?
HAYNES: When I saw the airplane touch down, no. No. I realized that‘s the tire burning. There‘s no fluid—I don‘t think there‘s any hydraulic fluid burning. As you can see, I‘m watching the video now, the replay again. Now, the fire is out and they‘re just burning on the strut of the gear. I can‘t believe he‘s right in the middle of that runway. That‘s unbelievable.
STEWART: Why‘s that unbelievable. Why was that so difficult to do?
HAYNES: Well once you slow down, your rudder becomes very ineffective. And your nose will—you stay on the runway by steering your nose wheel. He has no nose wheel steering, so what he was doing was just tapping his brakes, I assume. Now, here again, I‘m assuming. Since the rudder is ineffective at a slower speed, in order to stay on the runway, he‘s just tapping one brake or the other to keep the airplane right in the center of the runway.
STEWART: When you had to land your plane, how did you do it? How were you able to get that plane on the ground?
HAYNES: That is a question that we have never been able to answer.
HAYNES: Because by steering just by throttles alone, and having the airplane remain flyable and to get to a certain point, a particular point, it‘s just almost impossible to do. It‘s been done now, because people have experimented and learned how to fly the aircraft basically by throttles. But it‘s something you just didn‘t practice, and didn‘t work with. And so between the four of us, it was just an experiment of what do we do now? Try this, try that. Just like when he was going to lower the nose wheel, it‘s at what speed do I put the nose wheel down? How fast do I put it down? These things are going through his mind, because it‘s something he hasn‘t practiced either.
STEWART: And when you‘re in a situation like this, is it that simple
not that simple, I should say, but that basic as a pilot and copilot talking to each other. We‘re in this together, how are we going to get this on the ground?
HAYNES: Yes. That‘s what we call crew resource management. It‘s been around since about 1980 when United introduced it to the airline industry. But it was the crew working together inside the cockpit and with people outside the cockpit. Basically before the captain would make the decisions. He may rely on his copilots. Some of the would. But some of them were very hard headed and very stubborn, and they were the captain and they were going to make all the decisions. But now it‘s become a team effort by the tower, the controllers, the firemen, the maintenance department, the dispatch. Everybody working together. That‘s the whole idea of cockpit resource management. Everybody work together and not just rely on one person‘s advice or decisions.
STEWART: Well, that would seem to make a lot of sense, to take all of that experience and put it together to lead to a safer, happier ending?
HAYNES: Well that‘s being done everywhere now. Offices are doing it. Emergency rooms are doing it, and operational rooms are doing it. They‘re relying on the advice of the people around them. Why would a surgeon, for example, who has done this operation two times, why would he not listen to his surgical nurse who‘s done the operation 40 times? And that‘s what everybody is trying to teach and put together.
STEWART: You‘ve made a very good point. Hey, I want to run a couple of things by you. We had a couple of NBC employees, Universal employees on that plane. And they described some of what happened when the captain came on. And they described that at one point they started to redistribute luggage and passengers and sort of backloaded the plane.
HAYNES: Well, I was listening to Mr. Averill when he was talking. Yes. They put the weight in the tail, and that takes the weight off the nose wheel. So move as much as you can—they only had five seats so they couldn‘t move a lot of people. Otherwise they would have probably put as many people as they could in the back. But any heavy luggage that they had in the overhead bins and so forth, I would assume they would move that. Distribute the load toward the tail, so there would be as little weight on the nose wheel as possible. They couldn‘t do much, but they did everything they could, I‘m sure.
STEWART: And as you were listening to Mr. Averill, did he say anything that sparks your ears? That you would hear as a pilot that we as civilians wouldn‘t understand, wouldn‘t think about?
HAYNES: No. The only thing that surprised me, like he said, they left the TV‘s on.
STEWART: That‘s a little surprising isn‘t it. Yes.
HAYNES: But in a way, why not? If you don‘t want to watch it, turn it off. People seem to forget that on TV‘s and things they don‘t like. There is an off switch. So if you don‘t like what you see, turn it off.
STEWART: And that‘s what Mr. Averill said. Several of the passengers unplugged their headsets, and didn‘t want the information. He described that the pilot came on about 10 minutes after the flight, and said there was an issue with the landing gear. And then the information slowly trickled out. Is that standard procedure to just give as needed information—information as needed to the passengers?
HAGER: I didn‘t hear that part of his talk, but, yes, all the captain knows is, when he tried to retract the gear, it wouldn‘t come up. And so now he doesn‘t have any idea why. So he has to tell the people, well, we can‘t go climbing up and go to New York. We have a nose gear problem. So he tells them that, which is something they didn‘t use to do. They‘d just fly around and let you guess. But now we disseminate the information to the passengers. They deserve to know. We have a lot of experienced fliers back there. They know when something‘s wrong. And so you tell them, OK, now we have a problem with the nose gear, but we don‘t know what it is. And that‘s true. And as they began to realize what it was, and the low pass by the airport to confirm what the problem was, then they can pass that information on to the passengers. But if there‘s nothing to tell them, let them know. Say, I have nothing to say, but I‘ll tell you as soon as I can. And at least keep them informed as best you can. And evidently that‘s what this captain did.
STEWART: Now is that a pilot by pilot decision, or is that something that is mandated? Give the passengers as much information when you get it.
HAGER: Well it‘s basically a company policy, but the captain still has ultimate authority on the airplane as to what he does and doesn‘t do. And if the captain doesn‘t want to give it to them, well then that‘s his decision. If anything that happens on the airplane once the airplane is in the air, the captain is the final and ultimate—makes the ultimate decision.
STEWART: And before I let you go, though, what Mr. Averill described it as a very soft landing. Does that surprise you?
HAGER: A very what landing?
STEWART: He said it was one of the softest, easiest landings.
HAGER: Oh, yes. You can bet the captain was working as hard as he possibly—if he was flying—as hard as he possibly could to make that a smooth touchdown, because he doesn‘t want bouncing, any juggling, any jiggling. To look at that, it was just a perfect landing.
STEWART: Captain Al Haynes, we thank you so much for helping us walk through this incident aboard on JetBlue flight 292. You‘re looking at the right side of your screen. It is a very nice picture. All of those folks who are aboard the plane on the left side of your screen were able to simply walk off that JetBlue flight 292, which about 10 minutes into its takeoff, reported an issue with its landing gear. The plane landed safely at L.A.X. We all saw it live here on MSNBC. Thank you so much for being with us. “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is up next. I‘m Alison Stewart. Have a good night.
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