The Airbus 319A's landing gear apparently failed to deploy properly, authorities said. The airplane, carrying 48 passengers and five crew, entered a holding pattern for troubleshooting before performing a low approach to the runway for a visual inspection.
"I thought, here we are in a life threatening critical situation and I would be glad to see my family and kids again and prayed just like everyone else on the plane did," said passenger John Wiman, who was seated in an exit row.
Not knowing what would happen, they sent what they believed could be final text messages to loved ones.
"Trouble with landing, all my love," John said he texted.
Then, the pilot made and announcement.
"Just calm like ice water in his veins," passenger Paul Lasiuk said. "He said we are having an issue with the landing gear on the right hand side of the plane."
The right main landing gear would not extend, and so the pilot knew he had to use the nose and left landing gear to bring it down.
"The plane had a calm air and I thought, after miracle in the Hudson, if you can land on the Hudson, they can figure it out," passenger Moritz Loew said.
Using the longest runway and flying into the wind, the pilot safely touched down at about 9:30 a.m.
The airplane came to a stop on the left main and nose gear, and on the right side engine, and the passengers were evacuated via slides.
"When it came down on the engine, there were some sparks at the back," Lasiuk said. "But other than that, it was relatively smooth, as the plane was sliding and slowing down, people cheered and applauded."
And then several passengers, seated in exit rows, took charge.
"Open door, put door on seat behind me, pull cord, slide opens, usher people, make sure everyone gets out door and I go," Wiman said.
Three-year-old Sasha, the only child on the plane, got off safely with her parents, as did the crew. Now, all of the passengers are calling the pilot a hero.
"Certainly there were a lot of atta-boys going around," Wiman said. "All very thankful to him and thankful to get through this experience together."
All the passengers were evacuated down the slides, with no injuries reported.
When the aircraft landed, part of it struck the runway, causing some damage to the right wing area, United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. Urbanski said it was not immediately clear what caused the malfunction.
The airline announced that it would refund the 48 passengers' fares.
Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico said the airport was closed for about 20 minutes, then two of its three runways reopened after the plane landed.
The plane remained on the third runway as investigators tried to determine what caused the problem. Some arriving flights were delayed about an hour. Some minor departure delays were reported.