SEATTLE — A woman has sued American Airlines, saying she was traumatized when the plane she was on ran off the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, passenger Jewel Thomas said she has suffered severe mental and emotional problems because of the incident on Sept. 22, 2008. American Flight 268, a Boeing 757, was flying nonstop from Seattle to New York when it made an emergency landing at O’Hare, skidding onto the grass next to the runway.
“That day changed my whole life — it changed my whole world,” Thomas said, adding: “This is one problem I can’t solve.”
The woman from Bellevue, Wash., said she is on unpaid disability from her job at Microsoft. Though an experienced world traveler, she said she is no longer able to fly and will sometimes “freak out” when she hears an airplane.
No physical injuries were reported among the 185 passengers or seven crew members, and the aircraft had little damage beyond its landing gear and several blown tires.
Thomas contended in her lawsuit that shortly after takeoff, the flight crew received multiple warnings about problems with the plane’s electrical system. Following a reference handbook, the crew switched the plane’s standby power for some systems to the main battery, although the handbook noted the battery could provide backup power for only 30 minutes.
Thomas’ lawsuit alleges that the flight crew should have diverted sooner to another airport before the battery ran out and key systems were crippled. It accused American Airlines and the plane’s two pilots of negligence and seeks unspecified damages.
Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline, said that the company had not seen the complaint and had no comment.
The lawsuit claimed the captain was aware the main battery charger wasn’t functioning and of the battery’s 30-minute reserve, but the crew elected to continue the flight to New York.
Thomas’ lawyer, Alisa Brodkowitz, said a transcript of cockpit conversations “showed a real ignorance of flight systems.”
The lawsuit alleged that while the plane’s crew tried to troubleshoot the problem for several hours, critical systems began to shut down. The cabin public address system failed and eventually all power to the passenger cabin went out, including the lights.
Thomas said that after the cabin lights went out, passengers were told to prepare for a rough landing at O’Hare, and that many began to pray. She said she was terrified and called her children on her cell phone, leaving messages saying she loved them.
The plane eventually diverted to Chicago, where the crew declared emergency upon landing.