Close call for United Airlines emergency

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A United Airlines jet that left Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans Monday morning was forced to turn around and make an emergency landing minutes after takeoff when smoke was reported in the cockpit.

The pilots of a United Airlines flight that lost power
in all its instruments today were able to return to the
airport and land safely, guided by air traffic
controllers, cockpit tapes show.

The potential disaster occurred just three days after
pilots of a Southwest Airlines jet were able to get the
plane safely on the ground even though a section of
the top of the fuselage ripped off in mid-flight.

United Airlines Flight 497, an Airbus A-320 with 105
passengers and crew onboard, had just taken off from
New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport
today when the power onboard the plane went out,
and the plane began to vibrate.

Passengers said the pilot was speaking on the public
address system greeting them and briefing them
about the flight when he stopped in midsentence.

“At the beginning it seemed like everything was
routine and then a few minutes into the flight things
started to change,” said Dr. Ramin Buigui who was
sitting in seat 18-D.

The startled passengers had no idea what was about
to unfold in the cockpit. In recordings made by
liveatc.net, the pilots calmly reported smoke in the
cockpit.

“United 497, we are declaring an emergency,” one
pilot told air traffic controllers.

Initially it appeared the problem was solely the smell
of smoke in the cockpit. Air traffic controllers started
working on returning the plane to the New Orleans
Airport.

Then, with alarms sounding in the background, the
United pilots told air traffic controllers the situation
had quickly deteriorated in the cockpit.

“United 497, we’ve lost all our instruments,” a pilot
said.

Essentially flying blind, the pilots were in a dire
situation with no way of getting back to the airport on
their own.

Air traffic controllers responded, telling the pilots
they will guide them down by giving turn-by-turn
navigation over the two-way radio.

“United 497, just continue the left turn, I will tell you
when to stop, sir,” an air traffic controller told the
crippled airplane.

The pilots began using landmarks, like the
Mississippi River, to tell air traffic controllers what
they could see and where they believed they were.

“We’ve got water contact,” the pilots said. “What vector
are we from the airport?”

Knowing that without power, they will have trouble
stopping and steering when they land back in New
Orleans, the pilots requested the longest runway.

What they did not know was that the longest runway
was closed for construction. Quickly, crews began
clearing trucks and traffic cones off that runway.

“We need three minutes to get the runway clear,” one
of the ground crews on the runway said.

In a mad dash, construction vehicles were moved off
the runway and cones were picked up.

After talking the pilots back to the airport for nearly
10 minutes, an air traffic controller gave United 497
clearance to land and asks an ominous question.

“You going to make it sir?” the controller asked the
pilots.

The answer: “Yes.”

When the Airbus touched down, just as the pilots had
feared, they had minimal braking and steering power.
The plane, full of fuel for the flight to San Francisco,
ran off the side of the runway, blowing the front tire
and digging into muddy grass.

After the plane came to a stop, passengers said, flight
attendants began shouting instructions: “Leave
everything! Get out!”

Emergency slides were used to evacuate the plane.

It’s at that moment that passengers ran for safety.

“It’s scary up until the point I got off the plane and
started running,” passenger Jonathan Woods said. “I
didn’t know how much fuel was on the plane is what
worried me.”

Woods credited the two United pilots for getting them
on the ground alive.

In a statement to ABC News, United said there were no
reported injuries and the passengers were put onto
other flights.

Hours after the emergency landing, the United Airbus
remained off the runway with its front tire dug deep
into the mud.

situation with no way of getting back to the airport on
their own.

Air traffic controllers responded, telling the pilots
they will guide them down by giving turn-by-turn
navigation over the two-way radio.

“United 497, just continue the left turn, I will tell you
when to stop, sir,” an air traffic controller told the
crippled airplane.

The pilots began using landmarks, like the
Mississippi River, to tell air traffic controllers what
they could see and where they believed they were.

“We’ve got water contact,” the pilots said. “What vector
are we from the airport?”

Knowing that without power, they will have trouble
stopping and steering when they land back in New
Orleans, the pilots requested the longest runway.

What they did not know was that the longest runway
was closed for construction. Quickly, crews began
clearing trucks and traffic cones off that runway.

“We need three minutes to get the runway clear,” one
of the ground crews on the runway said.