By Moritz Loew, Senior Director, Field Sales Ops, msnbc.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- I boarded United Airlines Flight 634 yesterday morning and quickly used up three of my presumed nine lives. I was flying back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas via a layover at O'Hare.
What started out a very mellow red-eye flight home after a long, but very productive week turned out to have a very interesting ending when the right-side wheels failed to deploy on our Airbus 319 when attempting to land at Newark.
What happened? Still not sure why.
After listening to Lady GaGa, Kisha and LMFAO nonstop for most of the flight (not kidding), I pulled my headphones off as I noticed the pilot aborting our initial landing attempt. Initially I thought pilot had hit the gas to pull out of a busy traffic pattern, which is very common at Newark. So I thought there would be a basic announcement. But when the pilot came on, he said there was an issue with the plane that they were investigating and would update us shortly. When he came back on, he stated the issue was with the right-side landing gear and that we should prepare for an "unusual" landing. He said that we should prepare to brace and be ready to evacuate the plane immediately once we stopped.
|A United Airlines Airbus 319 sits on the tarmac at Newark Liberty International after making an emergency landing.|
Brace, brace, brace
Now, I was upgraded on the Chicago-to-Newark leg and sitting in the second row next to a man who had his 3-year-old daughter and wife sitting in front of him. So my immediate thoughts were of his child getting off safely and me getting home in one piece to my own very favorite, Ainslie Piper Loew. A moment or two later, the lead flight attendant restated that we were short a set of wheels, that we would need to put our heads down and hold our ankles for the brace position once signaled by the crew. Both the pilot and the rest of the crew had nerves of steel and their voices where nothing but calming while giving us just the right amount of information to get the job done. The 3-year-old, Sasha, was calm but Mom gave a bit of a panicked look when the lead flight attendant asked me to make sure the front cabin door got opened and the chute deployed if "something happened to her."
The pilot flies around for about 15 minutes dumping fuel and waiting for the emergency crews to get into place. During this time the other flight attendants make sure all exits are covered and give us reassurances of what to do. Then the pilot comes back on and tells us we would touch down in three minutes and get into position. That's when the crew yells the words you don't want to hear – BRACE, BRACE, BRACE.
During this time we all looked at the emergency cards. I shared that my brother and brother-in-law were both pilots who had their stories of planes landing with all sorts of broken things.
In fact, my daughter was given the middle name "Piper" as appreciation of the both of them, who have flown quite a few Piper Cub planes over the years.
I was just trying to rest any fears but in truth I was a little nervous inside. I thought of sending a text to my wife Bethany as many others were doing to their loved ones. But I concluded that A) if they can land safely on the Hudson, they can land on this nice runway minus a couple of wheels; and B) if something dreadful where to happen I would not want that to be the last she heard from me.
The next 90 seconds seemed like nine minutes, but the plane was coming in extremely smoothly with no tipping side to side and every foot we got closer to the ground the better I felt. We then gently hit the ground while the pilot simultaneously cut the electricity to help reduce the risk of fire. We rolled along initially at 100 mph (according to my brother) and the pilot did everything so well that no one even felt the absence of anything missing until around 50 mph, when the plane slowly tilted to the right side. But despite the right engine starting to drag and spark, the pilot kept the plane perfectly straight as to ensure the wing didn't dig into the ground, which would have been disastrous. I have literally had way rougher touchdowns that this with all three landing gears deployed!
On the ground
As the plane slowed to a halt, the cabin broke out in cheers and applause. Upon full stop the father next to me grabbed his daughter. The door was opened by the calm and collected flight attendant. I went to the door to deploy the chute. I pulled down the big lever and the door opened easily, but when I pulled the handle for the exit chute it would not deploy, as it seemed that the door would not stay all the way open. After pulling and pushing a few times, the flight attendant grabbed my shoulder and told me not to worry and just exit via the left side. Just like in the training films, you kick your legs out in front of you, cross your arms and very quickly slide down the rubber chute.
Upon hitting the ground, the emergency crew yelled for us to run quickly toward the line of emergency trucks and rescue teams. As I began to run, I looked back over and saw that the fireman already had foam hitting the engine, which quickly doused any sign of smoke, etc. At this point, a rush of euphoria hit me, as if I had one the Megamillion lottery! I ran to a nearby bus and immediately called Bethany to let her know we had experienced an "unusual" landing with only two out of three gears down but not to worry, I was very safe.