Alert diverts Airbus to city
The Iberia International Airlines plane, travelling from Chicago and heading for Madrid, makes an emergency landing at London's airport.
JENNIFER O'BRIEN, Free Press Reporter
Airport officials scrambled last night to find hotel rooms for more than 100 travellers after an international flight was forced to make an emergency landing in London. The Spanish-based Iberia International Airlines Airbus was en route from Chicago to Madrid when the smell of "something burning," seeped into the cabin, said passenger Dan Wolf, 18.
Moments later, there was an announcement the plane would be forced to make an emergency landing at London International Airport.
"It was the closest thing to death I've ever experienced, I was totally scared," Wolf said, speaking to a reporter through the glass of the departure lounge, where passengers were being held until accommodations could be arranged.
Dozens of emergency workers, including firefighters, paramedics and police responded to London International Airport for the emergency landing which occurred about 8 p.m.
Police scanners buzzed with sirens of emergency vehicles responding to reports of smoke in the cockpit.
The airbus dumped fuel over Lake Huron, said London fire District Chief Wayne Norton.
London has only dealt with this situation two or three times before. "Normally, it would have been diverted to Toronto, but because we were closer, they decided to land here."
More than an hour later, passengers were unloaded into the airport and most emergency vehicles left the scene.
Estimates of the number of passengers ranged from 139 to 239.
It was not clear last night what the problem was with the airbus, said London International Airport president Steve Baker, but airport employees were contacting technicians for Iberia International Airlines.
"We are talking with the technical people in Madrid and Miami," said Baker, adding the cause of the smoke was unknown.
Passengers appeared mostly in good spirits as they waited to hear their fate for their night.
Airport officials provided most of them with refreshments and some spoke into cellphones.
Wolf was playing cards with his father, while his brother, sister and mother lounged on nearby airport benches.
The South Carolina family was travelling to Spain and then Italy for a family vacation.
"There was a bad smell, like burning wire," he said through the glass.
"Then someone came on the intercom and said 'we have to make an emergency landing.'
"It was really freaky."
Wolf said the plane began to descend immediately, dropping quickly until it made an abrupt stop on the runway in London.
He couldn't recall what people were saying or doing around him, as he was so "freaked out," himself.
"I was so scared," he said. "Really I was."
Copyright ï¿½ The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003
London Free Press
Replacement jet heads for Madrid
Most stranded passengers of a Spanish-based Airbus forced to make an emergency landing in London left the city last night after a second aircraft stopped to pick them up for their trip to Madrid. The second Airbus A-340 arrived about 9:20 p.m. and left an hour later, said London International Airport president Steve Baker late last night.
"Everybody is gone and in good spirits."
Mechanics from Iberia were expected to arrive in London from Chicago to determine if the problem could be corrected at the London airport, said airport president Steve Baker.
The mechanics were a no-show on a flight yesterday morning, just one more setback for passengers who had paid upward of $875 US each, expecting to wake up yesterday in Madrid, Spain.
Many said they were reluctant to get back on the same plane, where a putrid smell some described as similar to wires burning enveloped the mid-cabin section less than two hours after it departed Chicago Saturday.
Many also expressed frustration they weren't told an emergency landing was about to occur, or why, and that announcements made by the crew were either in Spanish or broken English that was unintelligible.
Baker, who stressed he couldn't speak for Iberia Airlines, noted 75 per cent of the passengers were Spanish.
"I was praying up a storm out loud," said Patrice Hamm of Milwaukee, who clutched the hands of her daughters, Jessica, 14, and Beth, 17, as the plane made its rapid descent in pitch blackness with only occasional flickers from the cabin lights.
"She was freaking out," Jessica said.
While several emergency vehicles were on standby at the airport, the plane landed without incident.
The Hamms were among several passengers put up at hotels in St. Thomas because a hockey tournament meant practically every London hotel room was sold out.
While Baker's staff scrambled to find alternative hotel rooms, passengers -- who hadn't received the meal they were expecting just before the smell was detected -- arrived in London about 8 p.m. and didn't leave the terminal until well after midnight, some not seeing a hotel bed until 3 a.m.
Like many passengers, the Hamms said airport staff, taxi drivers and hotel staff offered hospitality.
"The Canadians have been very nice. It's Iberia Airlines we're upset with," Don Hamm said.
But some complained it took hours for the airport to eventually provide food more substantial than cookies. Pizzas were eventually delivered.
Baker admitted the delay at the airport was due to the challenge in finding hotel accommodations.
He picked up the tab for the pizzas and taxis that involved "several hundred dollars." Like stranded passengers, Baker is keeping his receipts for refunds from Iberia Airlines.
Madeline and Louis Seefeld, of Chattanooga, Tenn., had been looking forward to their dream vacation to Spain, where they were meeting their son. They were bumped onto this flight, but their luggage has already gone ahead.
After spending several hungry hours at London airport, they stood outside in a 90-minute lineup to get into the Comfort Inn in St. Thomas, only to learn it was full. They were then taxied to St. Thomas's Ramada Inn, where the exhausted couple tried unsuccessfully to contact their son.
"It's not been the vacation we expected," they said.
That was a common refrain from frustrated passengers who tried in vain to get through to Iberia Airlines to find out why a second plane couldn't be provided.
Baker remained hopeful the Madrid-bound flight would resume today or tomorrow, but stressed the plane won't depart London until the Transportation Safety Board proclaims it safe.
quote:CD, very interesting. I hope to hear more about the outcome of this one. Thanks for posting it.
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