• All walk away unhurt
by Jane M. Pascall
Every day Alaskans gauge the weather and the effect it has on their lives. A morning may begin with a quick look outside to see what the conditions are – is there sunshine, is it cloudy, rain, sleet, snow? Are the roads dry, slick, icy, plowed and ready for travel? These factors may cross our mind depending on where we are going for the day.
A bright, sunny day is perfect for flying in Alaska, right? Or so you might think – but not for passengers on a 3:30 p.m. ERA flight from Anchorage to Homer last Wednesday. That flight seemed perfect until the plane hit the tarmac and then something went terribly wrong. What went wrong is unclear and still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Homer resident Shelly Gill, however, who was heading back to town after attending a protest in Anchorage gives a detailed account.
“I was sitting in the right hand seat behind the mid-body exit door, so I could see as we were coming in. The plane was full,” she said. “We touch down – it all happens really fast – but it seems to me like we touched down and we rolled, which told me that the wheels were down.”
Gill said she felt “that sensation when the plane hits the runway and there’s that little scuff – then it started to roll, one side collapsed – then the other side collapsed.”
Once the landing gear failed, the tires blew, and the plane belly flopped down the runway “going at least 100 mph,” she said.
Gill said that no one was screaming, yet no one was calm either.
“Calm is not the greatest way to describe it,” she said, “everyone was braced and ready to move. The plane was filled with long-time Alaskans, it felt to me. And it felt like they knew we were in trouble – real trouble.”
Once the plane came to a rest, the door was quickly dropped and everyone evacuated in an orderly manner. Orderly enough for everyone to pick up their personal belongings. By the time airport emergency services got there, all passengers and crew were out and taking pictures, she said.
Although everyone was safe, the gravity of the situation is not lost on Gill.
“What I don’t know, was she (the pilot) doing something right to keep us on the runway, because we basically shot down the runway on the belly with the props flying apart,” she said.
“What is really obvious is if anything had changed in anyway, I don’t think any of us would be sitting here today.”
Gill said she realized an important factor that day – there is very little time between an emergency and when help arrives.
“I learned something, if something goes wrong there is not enough time to respond,” she said. “I was totally left with the feeling that you would never know what hit you.”
She does give the pilot a lot of credit.
“Did she do something that kept us going straight, how did she control the plane without wheels?”
The smell of smoke coming from the wheels encouraged the passengers to move away from the plane and head toward the terminal. That’s when Homer police and emergency crews arrived.
“Well, they didn’t say anything to us. So, I just walked on through,” said Gill. “I had 12 people coming for dinner and my dog was in the house. I had to let her out.”
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