U.S. News Headlines

Monday, January 11, 2010

Plane arrives safely at Newark after landing gear failure

A United Airlines jetliner landed Sunday without one of its landing gears fully deployed after a frightening few moments for passengers, who were braced in the crash position before an "unbelievably smooth" touchdown that drew cheers.

All 53 people aboard got off the plane safely.

Flight 634 from Chicago was approaching Newark Liberty International Airport about 9 a.m. when the plane began ascending again, said passenger Paul Wasylyszyn of Chicago.

Then the plane began circling the airport, said Jim Falk of Middletown, N.J., who was sitting near the front.

"Normally a big plane like that doesn't do a bypass, so we knew something was wrong," said Falk, 40.

The captain came on the intercom, advising the 48 passengers that there was "an issue" with one of the landing gears on the Airbus 319 and that they were trying to fix it.

"They did a great job," Falk said of the captain and crew. "There was no yelling, screaming, panicking or anything."

The mood stayed calm even when passengers were instructed to prepare themselves for a crash, said Falk. He sent several text messages to his wife, who was on her way to pick him up, about what was happening.

Passengers braced themselves, Falk said.

They would land in three minutes, the passengers were told. And then:

"We went down the runway, however they did it," Falk said.

"If you didn't know they were missing a set of wheels, you wouldn't have thought there was something wrong," Wasylyszyn said.

Passengers cheered and sighed when the plane came to a stop, Wasylyszyn said. Then they hurried out through the emergency exits.

"I've had a lot of worse landings at Newark before," said another passenger, Paul Lasiuk, 46, of Chicago. "It was unbelievably smooth."

United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said it was not immediately clear what caused the malfunction in the right landing gear. When the aircraft landed, part of its belly struck the runway, she said, and the right wing was damaged.

United announced that it would refund the fares of all the flight's passengers.

Falk said he was especially thankful to have an experienced pilot at the controls. United spokesman Michael Trevino said the airline would not release the name of the flight's captain Sunday.

After the crew reported the problem, Newark airport was closed for about 20 minutes, said a spokesman.