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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pilots land plane 'blind' after instruments fail and cockpit fills with smoke....

'Are you going to make it sir?': Hero United Airlines pilots land stricken plane 'blind' after instruments fail and cockpit fills with smoke

*Pilots navigated via land marks as instruments failed
*Smoke filled cockpit as pilots landed on back up systems
*Accident comes after Southwest airlines plane springs 5 ft gash mid flight

The pilots of a United Airlines flight were forced to land 'blind' when smoke began to fill the cockpit after a massive instrument failure.

Flight 497, with 109 passengers on board, ran into difficulties at 7am yesterday, only 20 minutes after taking off from New Orleans' Louis Armstrong airport.

Dramatic voice recordings of the pilot talking to air traffic controllers show how the ground crew had to guide the aircraft in via voice instruction as the pilots battled to steer the crippled plane home.

 Bravery: The front landing gear of a United Airlines air plane is seen sunk in a grass field after making an emergency landing shortly after take off at Louis Armstrong International Airport

Escape: A woman stands near the United Airlines air plane that made an emergency landing shortly after take off. The plane, heavy with fuel, ran off the runway and blew a tire

Speaking after the miraculous landing, Copilot Ronald Lee Young said the Airbus 319 landed on backup systems, with minimal steering and braking ability, after the plane lost all electronics.

He said:'When things start to go wrong, there’s always a system … we can go back to.'

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said he had not been told about any electronic failure.

He said the pilot had declared an emergency because of smoke in the cockpit.

To make matters worse, the plane was heavy with fuel for the cross-country flight.

When the plane landed, the crew said the aircraft had lost its anti-skid braking and nose-wheel steering, and ran off the runway.

Lucky: Passengers fortunate to be alive look back at the crashed plane. Copilot Ronald Lee Young said he landed on backup systems

Investigation: An official looks out from the doorway of the plane. An investigation has been launched into what went wrong

As soon as the plane was on the ground, flight attendants shouted 'Leave everything. Get out' as passengers slid down the front and back slides.

A few passengers walked to an ambulance after a call for anyone with injuries. The injuries appeared to be minor, such as abrasions from the slide.

Minutes from disaster, hero pilots are heard talking calmly to ground staff

Pilot: 'United 497, we've lost all our instruments.'

Controller: 'United 497, just continue the left turn, I will tell you when to stop, sir.'

Pilot: 'We've got water contact.'

Controller: 'You going to make it sir.'

Pilot: 'Yes.'

The incident comes after Southwest Airlines announced that the company expected to cancel 70 more flights, or two per cent of its Monday schedule, as it inspected older planes for cracks in the fuselage.

The airline cancelled about 600 flights and grounded 79 planes over the weekend after a Boeing 737-300 jet sprang a five-foot hole in the roof shortly after take off from Phoenix on Friday - forcing an emergency landing.

Voice recordings of the United incident made by liveatc.net, show the pilots calmly reporting smoke in the cockpit.

The pilot at first calmly tells controllers on the ground: 'United 497, we are declaring an emergency.'

But very quickly the situation becomes far worse, and can be heard in the background the pilot declares: 'United 497, we've lost all our instruments.'

Stricken: Passengers were told to get away from the crashed plane as soon as they could

Survivors: Australian tourists Peter Maroni, left, and Dani Marano recount their experience aboard a United Airlines flight. After exiting the plane, Marano called her mother to let her know she was safe

The pilots were flying 'blind', and with a catastrophic instrument failure, had no way of getting back to the airport on their own.

Air traffic controllers then resorted to guiding the plane turn-by-turn via land marks such as the Mississippi river.

A controller tells the stricken pilots: 'United 497, just continue the left turn, I will tell you when to stop, sir.'

The pilot responds: 'We've got water contact. What vector are we from the airport.'

To make matters worse, the pilots needed the longest runway possible as their backup systems did not have the stopping power available under normal conditions.

Unfortunately, runway 19 - the airport's longest - had construction work going on and was full of safety cones and vehicles.

Ground crews then had race against time to clear the runway as the stricken plane rapidly approached.

A ground crewman on runway 19 can be heard saying: 'We need three minutes to get the runway clear.'

Just before landing, and after talking the pilots back to the airport for nearly 10 minutes, the air traffic controller asks: 'You going to make it sir.'

Showing incredible calm, the pilot responds simply: 'Yes.'

Passenger Jonathan Woods said: 'It's scary up until the point I got off the plane and started running.

'I didn't know how much fuel was on the plane is what worried me.'

The FAA has launched a full investigation into the incident.

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