More emergency landings at airports than you know

November 22, 2011 3:01:25 PM PST
A passenger's cell phone captured the terrifying minutes of an emergency landing last year at JFK Airport.

A malfunctioning landing gear sent sparks flying as the wing scraped the ground.

None of the 60 passengers was hurt but Eyewitness News discovered these kinds of emergency landings are occurring more often than you would think.

FAA documents Eyewitness News obtained through Freedom of Information reveal an emergency landing occurs nearly every day at JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Airports.

"American heavy, remove everyone from our way we've declared an emergency," the pilot said in the recording.

Daily operation logs show pilots declaring emergencies for many rather scary reasons: a cargo fire, loss of cabin pressure, a number one engine problem, smoke in the cockpit, a fuel emergency or loss of hydraulics which is what forced frequent flyer, Michael Uslan to text his children goodbye two months ago during an emergency landing at JFK.

"I have never heard a noise like this before on a plane. It was a deep, sounded almost like a zzzzzzzzp, and there was a vibration with it, and I immediately turned to my wife, she was already looking at me and I said, 'I have never heard anything like that before, we're in trouble,'" Uslan said.

"Be aware we're going to be disabled. Emergency," the pilot said.

With loss of hydraulics and brakes, the Continental pilot declared an immediate emergency.

"Just make sure you advise tower that we'll be stopping on runway, we will be disabled," the pilot said.

"We are painfully aware of that sir there is equipment standing by," air traffic control responded.

"People were really concerned and wondering if we were actually going to make it," Uslan said.

They did touchdown safely, but these kinds of emergency landings occurred 66 times at JFK from February through June of this year.

That's more than three times a week.

At Newark, 50 flights made emergency landings while 34 emergencies were declared at LaGuardia during the same 20 week period.

''Everyone is a bona fide emergency, because they do involve the safety of the aircraft in flight, which means that a pilot is going to execute his emergency powers," said J.P. Tristani, a former commercial airline pilot.

J.P. Tristani spent 43 years as a commercial airline pilot.

He believes the sheer number of flights, plus today's aging fleet of planes could account for some of the emergencies.

"Emergency landings within a 20-week time period that come out to about one plus per day yes, I think they deserve further scrutiny and better explanation from the FAA," Tristani said.


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