Another in the recent string of near misses for the airline industry yesterday as a United Airlines flight made a safe emergency landing after the on-board power went out shortly after take-off. Without any instruments to guide them, the pilots relied on the directions from air traffic controllers and the landmarks which they could see out the window of the cockpit to return the airport.
In recent weeks, we have seen instances of air traffic controllers napping on duty while pilots continued to land at the airport, a hole ripping open in the fuselage of a plane, and now pilots being forced to fly blind because their instruments lost power during flight. Fortunately none of these mishaps resulted in a tragic airplane crash. But this streak of incidents certainly does not instill confidence in the safety procedures and maintenance practices used by our nation's airlines.
Yesterday's flight seemed off to a normal start as the plane took off. But as the pilot was greeting the passengers over the public address system, his voice broke off in mid-sentence. The first indication of trouble was the smell of smoke in the cockpit, but very shortly the pilots reported that they had lost power to all of their instruments.
Air traffic controllers told the pilots that they would guide them back to the airport with specific instructions on where to turn. The pilots used landmarks like the Mississippi river to help orient themselves.
Without power the pilots expected to have a difficult time landing, they had only minimal steering and braking abilities. The pilots requested the longest runway to provide the largest possible margin for error. The landing was indeed difficult and the front wheels of the plane veered off the runway and dug into the grass and mud. The flight crew engaged the emergency slides to evacuate the plane.
It was fortunate that no one was killed or seriously injured in this incident, and a testament to the air traffic controllers and pilots that the plane was landed safely. But this string of near misses remains troubling and will likely erode passenger confidence.
Source: ABC News "United Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing" April 4, 2011