BATON ROUGE, La. — One set of wheels didn't drop for Delta Flight Connection 5058 as its crew tried to land Thursday afternoon. A North Charleston resident was aboard.
Paul Stevens said the plane circled over Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport for a half hour, as he listened to the clatter of landing gear going down and being pulled back up, down and up. The flight was forced to land without its left wheels, according to a report in the Advocate in Baton Rouge.
"It was kind of surreal," he said.
Stevens, 36, was on his way to visit his fiancee, Linnea Freeman, a recent Medical University of South Carolina graduate who is doing medical research in Louisiana.
It had already been one of those star-crossed flights. Stevens waited on the tarmac in Atlanta for an hour while some kind of problem was worked out on his commercial flight, then finally was moved to a second plane. He was flying toward a tropical storm expected to dump some 10-15 inches of rain.
Now the pilot turned on the intercom and told the 30-50 passengers the plane had an issue with the gear. They circled for a half hour, then the flight attendant began the litany of emergency landing instructions, how passengers would have to brace themselves and look down.
"Then she told us, 'Get out of the plane as fast as you can and run away from the plane,'" Stevens said. "That's when the fear set in." Passengers started crying. To keep from panicking, Stevens kept thinking about "that fellow in New York," Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who in 2009 safely landed a disable American Airlines flight in the Hudson River and helped rescue all the passengers aboard.
The plane descended with the flight attendant yelling out repeatedly, "Brace yourself! Look down!"
But the oddest thing was the landing was softer than a lot of full gear landings, Stevens said.
"You smelled something burning, the wing dragging on the tarmac," he said. But there was no sense anything else was wrong until he stood up and realized the plane was crooked. The landing came off so well that emergency doors didn't have to be opened; passengers walked out the door they had come in. "The pilot did an amazing job," Stevens said.
Freeman, waiting by the baggage carousel, had no idea anything was wrong until Stevens called her from the concourse. She hurried to a window, saw the wreckage and watched the passengers escorted to the terminal by ambulances and police cars. When Stevens reached her, she "jumped on and hugged me and said she was sorry she made me come," he said with a laugh.