Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 22, 2005

The Plane That Didn’t Crash — But confirms our stereotypes

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:42 pm

A JetBlue plane with a malfunctioning landing gear (the wheels were turned sideways) landed safely at LAX today. No one was hurt. From the AP story:

The landing gear trouble _ the front wheels were stuck in a sideways position _ was discovered almost immediately after the plane departed Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:17 p.m., en route to New York City.

The Airbus A320 circled the Long Beach Airport, about 30 miles south of Burbank, before being cleared to land at Los Angeles. It stayed in flight for three hours to burn off fuel, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Donn Walker.

The pilot finally brought the plane down, back wheels first. As he slowly lowered the nose gear, the stuck wheels erupted in smoke and flames, which quickly burned out.

Emergency crews from across the area met the plane on the runway. Spectators gathered on buildings and stood on parked cars to see firsthand as passengers walked down a stairway onto the tarmac with their carry-on luggage.

Some passengers shook hands with emergency workers and waved to cameras. One firefighter carrying a boy across the tarmac put his helmet on the child’s head.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who spoke with the pilot, identified him as Scott Burke and praised him for the calm he showed during the flight.

“He joked that he was sorry he put the plane down 6 inches off the center line,” Villaraigosa said.

This confirms two stereotypes: (1) that airline pilots are incredibly skilled, creative, and calm under pressure when something goes wrong, even though most of the time nothing goes wrong and their jobs are probably not that exciting, and (2) politicians, especially local ones, will do anything to get themselves in the public eye. Note that the mayor had absolutely nothing to do with the successful resolution of the problem, which was purely in the hands of the pilot, air traffic control, and airport personnel on the ground. But the mayor was there to bask in their reflected glory, perhaps implicitly taking some of the credit. I wonder if he would have chased the cameras if the plane had crashed and people been killed, or if he would have tried to avoid any association with the event.

By the way, a video of the landing is available here and another one is here.

Another weird thing is that since JetBlue has actual TV receivers on their plans (one in front of every seat), passengers could spend the three hours when the plane was burning fuel watching the drama unfold on live television.

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