Officials at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) said they anticipated the arrival of JetBlue Flight 292 and took action nearly two hours before the plane, which had a landing gear malfunction, made a safe emergency landing at the airport Wednesday, September 21st.
The New York-bound JetBlue airliner with its front landing gear twisted sideways safely made a suspenseful emergency landing at LAX at 6:18 p.m., after circling the Southern California skies for three hours.
JetBlue Flight 292 — carrying 140 passengers and six crew members en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport — departed Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:33 p.m., but shortly after takeoff the cabin crew received a warning that the nose landing gear did not retract.
The airplane pilot decided to turn back toward Long Beach Airport and conducted a “flyby” near the air traffic control tower, where air traffic controllers informed him that the nose landing gear was turned 90 degrees sideways, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said.
The pilot, Scott Burke, then chose to divert the airplane to LAX, but with the plane’s inability to dump fuel, Burke had to circle the region for hours burning fuel to make the airplane as light as possible for landing, NTSB officials said.
In what became a nationally-televised event, JetBlue Flight 292 made a landing on LAX’s southernmost runway with smoke and fire emanating from the front landing gear wheels until the plane came to a safe stop.
None of the 146 people on board Flight 292 was injured.
Nancy Castles, LAX spokeswoman, said airport officials were notified of the Flight 292 approach to LAX at 5:08 p.m., but officials were prepared for the possibility of the plane coming to the airport well before then.
After watching the incident develop on television at about 4 p.m., LAX officials felt there was a 98 percent probability that the plane was headed for their airport, Castles said.
Airport officials began notifying and mobilizing many resources at 4:15 p.m. even though the airport had not received official notification of the plane’s destination, she said.
“We felt it was better to prepare and stand down than wait,” Castles said.
There are two City of Los Angeles Fire Department stations on the LAX airfield, which are the airport’s first emergency responders, Castles said.
When responding to the anticipated emergency landing of Flight 292, the two fire stations deployed units, as did ten or so other units from surrounding stations.
Airport police and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers were also called to the airfield and set up a perimeter around the airport and surface streets, she said.
Nearly 130 law enforcement personnel were called to the incident and numerous others were on standby.
Federal officials from the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were also notified of the incident.
“For this particular incident we took a very proactive approach to everything,” city fire department assistant chief Roy Kozaki said. “Even before we knew the flight was redirected we started predeploying our resources.”
By the time the JetBlue airplane made its landing, all involved agencies were already on the airfield and prepared to attend to the passengers, Castles said.
Emergency responders considered all possible outcomes of the emergency landing, including a potential crash or a landing in which the plane would overshoot the runway and land in the ocean, Kozaki said.
Coast Guard boats were sent to the surrounding waters near the airport in the event of a landing in the ocean, he said.
“We prepared for the worst,” said Kozaki, who added that they were “delighted” at the safe landing and impressed with the “terrific job” of the pilot.
Once the JetBlue plane came to a stop on the runway, safety officials chose to deplane the passengers through the aircraft’s stairs.
“We determined that there was no fire at the stop so there was no emergency evacuation,” said Howard Plagens, senior air safety investigator for the NTSB and lead investigator for the JetBlue incident.
Passengers were able to watch the three-hour drama on television sets in the backs of airplane seats.
Plagens said the pilot chose to land on LAX runway 25L because of the “length and width” of the airport’s southernmost runway.
Castles said runway 25L is a “very long runway” at 11,095 feet and 200 feet wide, but the runway also has a great deal of ground space on both sides, which allows for a “good margin of space for the pilot to maneuver as necessary.”
By the time the plane came to a halt, it had rolled to within 1,000 feet of the end of the runway.
Jeff Karch, superintendent of airport operations, said runway 25L received no damage from the fiery landing.
The runway was closed for more than three hours from the time of the emergency landing until it was reopened at 9:48 p.m., Karch said.
Adjacent runway 25R was also closed from the time of the landing and reopened shortly after. No other airport runways were closed as a result of the JetBlue incident.
Castles said no flight delays occurred as a result of the incident.
After the passengers left the JetBlue plane, an Airbus A320, it was taken to the Continental Airlines maintenance area.
Plagens said mechanics removed the plane’s damaged nose wheel and Airbus engineers were called in to evaluate the damaged area.
The cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder have been removed from the plane as part of the investigation.
NTSB officials are reviewing the three-year-old plane’s maintenance records, but officials will not be able to properly determine a cause for the landing gear malfunction until the landing gear system is disassembled, Plagens said.
According to federal documents, there have been at least three and possibly six incidents with Airbus A320 planes in which the nose landing gear turned sideways like the JetBlue plane, Plagens said.
All of the previous incidents dealt with the front landing gear, and NTSB officials will try to determine if there are any similarities with the JetBlue incident, he said.
While safety officials will attempt to determine a cause for the latest Airbus A320 landing gear incident, Plagens said the flight 292 crew “took a lot of positive steps” in preparing the passengers for the emergency landing.
“They did everything they could to help with the outcome,” Plagens said.
In preparing for the emergency landing, the flight crew moved passengers and luggage toward the back of the plane to help lighten the front part of the aircraft.
Crew members spoke to all passengers to review the safety and landing procedures, and as the plane came in for landing, flight attendants shouted, “Brace.”
After the three-hour ordeal was over, JetBlue officials assisted passengers by offering immediate alternate travel accommodations and other assistance as needed.