Here’s the entire story from AP:
A JetBlue airliner with its front landing gear stuck sideways safely landed Wednesday, balancing on its back wheels as it slowed on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport.
Stop. Reread that last paragraph.
I was at my desk when I first caught sight of something out of the ordinary. It was MSNBC, I think. I was looking at a JetBlue A320¹ filling the entire frame. A small courtesy font was in the upper corner of the screen. That meant live, breaking news… and there’s an airplane involved.
As I watched, the story began to unfold. This pretty, fairly new, JetBlue Airbus had taken off from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. An indicator told the pilot the gear had not properly locked and/or retracted.
After a quick trip to Long Beach and a low, slow buzz by the tower, it was decided the gear was down but turned perpendicular to the motion of the plane.
By the time I got to see what was going on there were cameras all over the place peering at this jet. Some of the best shots were coming from hovering helicopters. The shots were close enough to clearly see the recalcitrant landing gear.
The all news channels moved to this like a moth to flame.
MSNBC’s coverage featured Alison Stewart. On CNN it was Paula Zahn. I never stayed long enough on Fox to get a feel for who was anchoring their coverage.
Both channels found experts to talk with. They were mostly pilots, though MSNBC also found Robert Hager (Bob, you’re out of retirement for a few minutes) and Tom Costello.
Some of the info was confusing. Text crawls at the bottom of the screen talked about ‘dumping fuel,’ though this Airbus isn’t equipped to do that. Anchors asked pointed questions implying there was a tragic loss of life on the way.
The coolest head was pilot John Wiley, on the phone, on CNN.
It’s probably going to be exciting for the passengers. It will make for a great story. But I would probably — I would not say that this is a dangerous situation. Obviously, it is an abnormal. It’s a situation we will call a non- normal, to use the latest jargon and stuff.
But I think, basically, what’s going to happen is, these guys are going to touch down. It’s going to make for good video. It’s going to make for good stories for the families, needless to say. Two, they’re going to be a little excited about this. But I think that it’s going to eventually wind up in a very safe outcome.
If this guy isn’t right stuff material, who is? And, in fact, what John Wiley said did come true.
There was talk in the newsroom of what was going on in the plane. I thought the flight attendants were preparing the cabin and passengers for a crash landing. Maybe they were, but the TV’s on each seatback were still operating.
People were on this seemingly doomed plane watching coverage of their own demise!
After hours of circling, the pilot greased a perfect landing right on the centerline of the runway. First the main gear touched. Somehow, even as speed began to burn off, he held the nose up. It was like hang time in the NBA – but with an Airbus full of people.
For the first few seconds everything looked fine. Then came sparks. The sparks grew longer, Finally, there seemed to be flame shooting under the entire length of the plane.
I expected, any second, to see the plane burst into flames.
I kept hoping the front gear would break away, allowing the nose of the plane to slide on the concrete runway. It never did. Instead, the sparks diminished and the plane slowed and then stopped.
It was over.
It was a surreal moment. Yes, it ended wonderfully (as John Wiley predicted). It could have ended tragically. And yet, there was no way to avert my eyes. I had to watch.
The next time I fly, if I can’t have John Wiley, give Captain Scott Burke, that guy from JetBlue. They can’t use his valiant performance for a commercial, but you almost wish they could.
¹ – God bless the Internet. The plane in tonight’s incident, N536JB, had 3 pages of photos on the web before it became famous!