NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Federal officials are investigating what caused the landing gear of a United Airlines flight from Atlanta to malfunction Monday evening, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing at Newark Liberty International Airport.
No one was injured when United Airlines Flight 5124 landed on its belly just after 6 p.m. Monday. Officials said the pilot noticed the aircraft’s front landing gear wouldn’t go down as he was preparing to land.
A fly by the control tower confirmed the problem. Air traffic control recordings reveal the pilot had little choice but to land the plane on its nose.
“It’s tense, but we’re trained, and we’re skilled, and we remained as calm as possible. Our job is to keep the pilot calm and make sure everybody can do their job correctly,” said Ray Adams of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
“I would like to go ahead… at this time,” the pilot is heard saying on air traffic control recordings.
Emergency landing recordings, Part 1 (via LiveATC.net)
Emergency landing recordings, Part 2 (via LiveATC.net)
All 69 passengers on board, including an infant and four crew members, braced for a hard landing.
Passengers said the pilot’s professionalism was matched by the flight attendants.
“They were going row by row, making sure everyone knew what to do and practicing how to brace for the impact,” passenger Shellie Bill told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
Passenger Steve Parowski, of Franklin Lakes, N.J., said once the pilot gave the warning he immediately began texting his sons telling them he loved them.
“We started saying prayers because we just thought it was the end, you know we really did,” Parowski told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
“Say a prayer. Tell Michael I love him. Be strong and always keep the faith,” said 16-year-old Michael Parowski, reading the text.
“Crash position, crash position, crash position, over and over again, so you really couldn’t think about anything else,” father Steve Parowski recalled. “Making sure we were all crouched down in the right safety position, for a crash position, which is tucking your body down.”
“Some of the kids were crying like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen? Are we gonna die’?” passenger Angela Nickerson said.
Emergency responders flooded the runway as the pilot brought the plane down. Once on the ground, passengers were forced to deplane using evacuation chutes.
“They did an absolutely amazing job. They literally, I’m telling you, I have had rougher landings with a landing gear,” Bill said.
“Take him out to dinner, buy him a beer, get him a nice steak here,” Steve Parowski told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.
“Thank God, thank the pilot, thank everyone that helped make that such a safe recovery,” said Michael.
Passengers on other flights had no idea what was happening, only that something was wrong as Newark halted all flights for about an hour.
“Said there was an emergency landing, sit here for a couple of hours, but it was probably and hour until we got to the gate,” said traveler Katherine Baron.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating but said as of right now, there are no plans to send a ground team to Newark.
In 2006 a nearly identical situation — involving the same airplane make and model, airline and issue — occurred on a flight from Houston to Washington D.C.
NTSB records show that accident was caused by maintenance errors.
In the years since, Shuttle America — which operates the route for United Airlines — has revised its maintenance protocols and installed new warning systems.
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