CHARLOTTE — Passengers aboard a Delta flight disembarked using the jet slide Wednesday after the plane’s front landing gear failed to deploy as it landed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The flight landed safely and no injuries were reported, according to officials.
Photos from the scene show wheels on the ground under the wings, but the nose of the aircraft on the runway. An inflatable slide extends from a door of the plane and firefighters appear to be helping passengers disembark on the slide.
“I’ve been traveling for work over the past 10 years — going down that slide is one of the coolest things,” said passenger Chris Skotarczak, who was traveling to his Charlotte office from Buffalo, New York.
Skotarczak said if he hadn’t seen the plane’s shadow without the nose wheel down and been told to brace for an emergency landing, he would have thought nothing was wrong.
“The pilot told us, we’re going to land, we’re going to hear a big thud and we’re going to hear a lot of grinding,” Skotarczak told the Associated Press. “But it was almost smoother than a regular landing.”
Skotarczak was one of 96 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants on board the Boeing 717 aircraft that left from Atlanta and was headed to Charlotte.
All passengers were taken to the terminal. The airport said it was working to remove the aircraft and reopen the runway.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and people,” Delta Air Lines said in a statement. “While this is a rare occurrence, Delta flight crews train extensively to safely manage through many scenarios and flight 1092 landed safely without reported injuries.”
The airline said it was now focused on helping to remove the plane and helping passengers get to their final destinations, and it is fully cooperating with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigations.
The trouble began when pilots received a “nose gear unsafe” indication as the plane approached the Charlotte airport and so they flew by the air traffic control tower so controllers could visually inspect the plane, Delta said in a statement. Controllers saw that the nose landing gear doors were open, but the gear hadn’t descended and the pilots landed the plane without the nose gear.
The crew calmly led the passengers to the emergency chutes at the two exits after the emergency landing.
Less than four hours after the landing, Skotarczak, the passenger from Buffalo, was at work, but only with his cellphone and a bottle of water. Passengers were asked to leave everything else on the plane as they left, and he put his wallet in his backpack so he wouldn’t have to sit on it the whole flight.
“I was totally going to buy a lottery ticket, but I can’t,” he said.
Skotarczak and his wife are heading to Europe on vacation next week, and he said his wife asked if he would be OK flying again.
“I told her it can’t happen to the same person twice. I just took one for the team,” Skotarczak said.
An unnamed passenger shared a video of the landing with WCNC-TV, which showed people on the plane quietly braced with their heads down and arms holding on to the seat back in front of them as the plane landed.
The video showed an unremarkable touchdown. The person filming it said, “That was not bad at all.”
Gregory A. Zahornacky, a former captain with a major airline and an assistant aviation professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said such landing gear failures are “very rare” and that commercial airlines in the U.S. have a “fantastic” record of maintaining planes.
Zahornacky said the crew did what they were supposed to do when the nose gear didn’t work as expected, which is to extend the rest of the plane’s landing gear to absorb energy as the plane touches the runway.
“I’m sure they did everything physically and humanly possible to check and see that they could get the gear down,” said Zahornacky, who flew the DC-9, which is the precursor to the Boeing 717.
“It was the best potential outcome we could expect in a situation such as this,” he said. “I think there’s probably very minimal damage to the aircraft, which is secondary … to the safety of the passengers and the crew. So I think that’s the big takeaway here is that everything was handled the correct way and safely done.”
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is among the busiest airports in the U.S., according to Airports Council International. It offers nonstop air service to 178 destinations.
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