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Passengers Praise Pilot for Easy Landing With Crippled Jet

November 30, 1989

ATLANTA (AP) _ Passengers who cowered in the rear of an Eastern Airlines jet as it hobbled in on two of its three sets of tires felt death was certain but said the landing was smoother than others they experienced.

Some were so relieved, they raced off the crippled Boeing 727 for connecting flights at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

’I figure it can’t possibly happen to another plane tonight, so I’m going on,″ said Jahnn Gibson, 40, of Saratoga, N.Y., who was making her first flight Wednesday.

Eastern spokesman Jim Ashlock said none of the 43 passengers and seven crew members were injured.

The right main landing gear jammed while retracting after takeoff from Albany, N.Y. Eastern officials said it appeared a damaged tire tread jammed the extending mechanism when it separated from the tire during the takeoff.

After talking with ground technicians, the pilot, Capt. William Bundrant, circled the Atlanta airport, moving from side to side and up and down in an attempt to shake the landing gear loose.

″I was terrified,″ said Erika Celella, 33, of Ballston Spa, N.Y. ″They told us all to get to the back of the plane, then they screamed ‘Take any seat 3/8’ and I knew we were all dead.″

With less than one-third of the plane’s capacity of 149, the passengers could fit in the tail of the plane, where they crouched, heads down and arms over their heads.

Mrs. Gibson said children cried, their parents prayed and many ″kept muttering ’Oh, my God, oh, my God,″ as the jet approached the runway.

But to everyone’s astonishment, the landing was ″smoother than a regular landing,″ said Ellen Kemp, 30, of Albany, N.Y., who was traveling with her three children, ages 9, 2, and 8 months.

″I couldn’t believe how easy he set it down. It was better than most normal landings I’ve been through,″ said Susan Winfree, who was traveling with her 3-month-old daughter, Casey. ″It made a little more noise, but that’s all.″

The right wing touched the ground as it rolled to a stop, causing only minor damage, said Arlene Salac, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

Bundrant, 51, an Atlanta-based pilot with 23 years’ experience at Eastern, brought the plane to a screeching, grinding halt amid a shower of fire- suppressing foam from fire trucks.

Ms. Celella said flight attendants ″were screaming ‘Get out 3/8 Get out 3/8’ and we could smell chemicals that we thought was fuel, but was really the foam. We thought it was going to blow up.″

Terrified passengers scrambled down a rear staircase.

″I didn’t know I could move that fast,″ said Olive Tracey, 66, who was on her way home to Dade City, Fla., after spending Thanksgiving with her children. ″I think I was outrunning some of those younger people getting away from that plane.″

An Eastern spokeswoman said that the continued strike by its machinists had no bearing on the incident.

The landing problem was ″certainly was not because a plane had not been worked on by licensed, skilled mechanics,″ said Gloria Prance, an executive assistant at Eastern.

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