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Airliner Attempts Emergency Landing at Logan Airport

Aired December 20, 2005 - 21:19   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everyone. I'm Paula Zahn in New York. We're going to get back to LARRY KING LIVE in just a minute but I want to update you on a breaking news story out of Boston. We are waiting for an airliner to attempt an emergency landing at Logan Airport. That's the local airport there.
The plane is a Boeing 717 operated by Midwest Air. Its flight number is 210, the flight apparently on its way from Boston to Milwaukee, 91 people onboard. The plane seems to have developed a problem with its right main landing gear when it took off. Officials say they will now try to attempt a landing at 9:30.

About the only information we've been able to access is from a Web site called that tracks commercial aircraft and they have this flight listed having basically been circling the airport at some 5,000 feet, well over an hour and 15 minutes ago.

On the phone with us right now is pilot Jim Mose, who is going to give us a sense of the kind of decision these pilots have to make as they're trying to burn fuel. Jim, what's the most challenging thing these pilots have got to do right now before they try this landing, we're told, in about ten minutes or so?

JIM MOSE, PILOT (by telephone): Well, I think, Paula, the most challenging thing is trying to get the gear down. If indeed what is happening is that one of the main landing gears not coming down right now they're most concerned about trying to get that gear down because they need those wheels down for landing.

ZAHN: And we don't know exactly what is wrong with the gear if it's stuck or if it -- if it never released upon takeoff but help us understand the configuration of this plane and how tough this might make any landing.

MOSE: Well, the configuration of this plane, you said a 717 this is a derivative of the DC-9 family of airplanes. It's been flying for many, many, many years since the '60s I think. It's approximately what about a 150 passenger airplane.

ZAHN: It's actually, I'm just getting...

MOSE: And has a big tricycle landing gear configuration so a big pair of wheels on the nose and then under each wing is a main landing gear system, which are the two main wheels of the trike so to speak.

ZAHN: So, once you lose one of those wheels of your tripod there what does a pilot got to do to keep the plane stable?

MOSE: Well, I mean, you know, right now the plane is stable, Paula, because he's flying right. The difficulty is, is when he lands, you know, keeping the airplane tracking down the runway center line without that one main gear down.

He'll likely have enough inertia with the airplane flying at a speed of about probably 140 miles an hour to keep tracking down the center line but the likely result is going to be that the airplane will touch down.

And then the right wing, if it in fact the right landing gear that's not down, will lower slowly to the runway and scrape along the runway, much like we saw a few months ago with another jet out on the West Coast that landed on its nose wheel sideways. It will just scrape along the runway and hopefully just keep tracking right down the center line.

ZAHN: And we need to explain to our audience that we are operating with precious little information now. About the only thing we've learned from folks in Boston this is a problem with the right landing gear.

We don't know exactly what the problem is at this hour but we do know the plane has been circling now for well over an hour and a half trying to burn fuel. How important is it for this plane to come in as light as possible, Jim?

MOSE: Well, I would say very important. It's necessary for any airplane to be at the appropriate weight, the appropriate landing weight for whatever type of airplane that is. A DC-9 airplane will likely be landing I think somewhere around probably 100,000 pounds I'm guessing.

I hope the DC-9 people aren't upset with me about that but approximately 100,000 pounds of weight and they need to -- what they need to do is exhaust all of the possibilities to get the gear down. So the first thing on their mind obviously is getting the gear down.

ZAHN: We are looking at a shot.

MOSE: (INAUDIBLE) and burn it in order to get the gear down so that's what they're trying to do. That's what they're concentrating on. The last resort is obviously possibly landing with that gear up and having it skid about the runway once they do that.

ZAHN: We're looking at pictures that are being furnished from WHDH, the local station there, a station where I once worked and we are having difficulty determining exactly what it's showing us. Perhaps it's another plane up in the air. Now we're looking at some parts of Boston. I wish I could -- I lived there.

I wish I could give you a better idea at night exactly what we're looking at but clearly the tower we are told is getting prepared for this plane to make an emergency landing. What are you inclined to think, you've flown a lot of big planes in your lifetime that the passengers onboard are being told about what this plane is dealing with?

MOSE: Well, I think it's likely that it's very similar to the other gear incidents we've seen on CNN over the last few months. We seem to have a rash of landing gear malfunctions with a big corporate airplane out I think somewhere in the West Coast, Oregon I think and, of course, just a few months out in California.

The main concern is obviously getting the airplane down safely, trying to access all of the resources available to these fine pilots to get the gear down and land and then to use the crew and all of the training that they've had for emergency evacuation in the event that they will have to do that and likely if they land with one of the gear up then they have to do that. They will certainly have to do that I'm sorry. They will certainly have to do that.

And so they want to make sure and get everybody off safely and that's a pretty serious thing and, you know, of course we don't know exactly what's happening so I don't want to be an alarmist and hopefully they're just getting the gear down and confirming that and are going to land on all the wheels.

ZAHN: Jim, as you were speaking I was just being handed something, some information from the Massachusetts Port Authority suggesting that what the pilots actually saw were some sparks from the rear of the plane shortly after takeoff.

Once again we need our audience to understand as we're trying to cover this breaking news, as is often the case, you get conflicting information. Originally a number of sources were saying that we were talking about a problem confined to the right landing gear and now we're -- Mass. Port Authority who would not say this unless they have pretty good authority to go public with it. They're talking about the pilots seeing sparks of an unknown origin. Do you have any idea what that might mean?

MOSE: You know I'm afraid I don't. You know, did you say, Paula, that the plane did indeed leave Boston coming back from Milwaukee or something?

ZAHN: Yes, it had taken off from Boston. We don't know how far it got out of Boston airspace at all. A web site that tracks some of these commercial flights is saying that at 7:42 the plane started flying in an altitude about 5,000 feet around the Boston terminal control area and has been flying at that altitude for the last hour and 15 minutes and that's about all we can confirm.

MOSE: Well that's kind of an unusual circumstance and it's really hard for us to determine from such little information what exactly is going on. I mean we're talking about the landing gear. And, if we don't have any reports that that's what it is directly from Midwest Airlines or someone at air traffic control, it's difficult to speculate.

ZAHN: Captain Mose, if you don't mind standing by and stay with us, I'm going to have Bob Francis join our conversation, formerly a chair of the NTSB who might be able to fill us in on what he has learned. Bob, are you learning anything independently of the Massachusetts Port Authority?

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN (by telephone): I hate to say this but the answer is no. I just -- I was out walking the dog when somebody called and my wife got me, so I know less than what you guys know and I'm not even clear is this a plane that took off from Boston to go somewhere else?

ZAHN: That's what we are being told a plane that took off and apparently has been circling at an altitude of about 5,000 feet for the better part of the last hour and 15 minutes. Originally, we were told reporting a problem with its right landing gear, now Mass. Port Authority is saying the pilots had seen some sparks of some unknown origin coming from the rear of the plane shortly after takeoff. So, we don't even know how far out of the Boston terminal control area this plane got -- Bob.

FRANCIS: Yes. Well, you know, sparks from a tail sometimes at least means that there was an over rotation on takeoff and the plane starts going up too fast and the tail hits the runway. That's not a rare event and not terribly serious for the most part.

ZAHN: And what would cause it...

FRANCIS: If that somehow was coupled with, you know, with the right gear failing on takeoff then that's obviously much more serious.

ZAHN: And when you talk about this over rotation issue, if that's in fact what caused the sparks, how does that happen?

FRANCIS: Well, the aircraft is designed to only -- the nose only come up so far when the pilot rotates to take off and if he over rotates and the nose goes up too far the tail obviously goes down and it will drag on the runway and that will -- that will give you some spark. It's not a, you know, it doesn't happen all the time but it's something that does happen and aircraft are designed to deal with that.

ZAHN: Bob, we are...

FRANCIS: But it's not a landing gear problem.

ZAHN: Yes, we are looking now at an aerial shot of what appears to be one of the runways at Logan. Actually it looks like a plane landing. This is very difficult to glean from the angle where I'm sitting. Give us a sense of what is going on at the control tower at Logan Airport right now if in fact this plane is going to attempt this emergency landing. Well, this plane now is taking off. I'm sorry.

FRANCIS: Well, they won't stop operations at Logan until they're ready to land the plane that's got the problem. And I don't know whether the 717 has the ability to dump fuel or not. If it doesn't, then they're going to have to do what they are doing.

What happened to the a-320 in California, they had to circle for three hours to get the fuel off. Or they may in an hour and a quarter they still may be analyzing and trying to remedy what the problem is. ZAHN: Bob, while you were out walking the dog, we had a pilot, Jim Mose, describe to us why you want to burn fuel and bring this plane in light. For those of us who don't pilot planes, can you walk us through that.

FRANCIS: He certainly knows as much as I do and probably more because he's been trained for it. But obviously, if you land and you've got a problem, you want to land with as little fuel as you can, in case there's a fire issue.

So you want to get yourself down to enough to get you in safely. But not have a lot of extra fuel on the aircraft. Then obviously, if the problem isn't resolved and the gear isn't down and locked, then there will be a lot of emergency vehicles out next to the runway waiting for the landing.

Everything around will be cleared. I don't know whether there's snow on the ground in Boston or what there is. But it looks like the runways are cleared.

ZAHN: Yes, from this picture it does as well. Bob, if you don't mind standing by, I'll bring Jim Mose back on the line. I don't know Jim, if you've gone through this drill before of burning fuel. Are you aware if the 717 has the ability to dump fuel?

MOSE: You know, I'm not, Paula. I don't -- actually, I just don't -- I would bet that they do not have the ability to dump fuel. I think that the 717 is actually, because of its size, it is probably likely that they just need to burn down the fuel.

And as Bob, I think is his name, was saying that the fuel equates to time in the airplane. So there's really no reason to rush something, especially in an airplane. It's best to consider all of your options and access all your resources so that you can make the right decision.

And the discussion about the tail skid, Bob is exactly right. That's not a critical event. If the airplane rotates too quickly and then perhaps the tail of the airplane strikes the ground, there's actually a large skid that's integral to the airplane that strikes the ground first. It's like a big -- like a skid plate on an automobile or something.

It is designed to hit first. So it's hardly an event that would cause any, you know, great concern, although it's -- we're speculating that that's what it is.

It is just really hard to tell from the information we have, and in the absence of the photos that we get during the daytime on a nice clear day, we just don't know what's happening.

ZAHN: So Jim, help us understand if this problem-- and we have been told this by two sources -- that there's a problem upon takeoff, whether it was the pilots seeing these spa of an unknown origin, or if there was a problem with the right landing gear. When in flight that would be evident? Is the engagement of that right landing gear, is that something that you see immediately upon rolling out?

ZAHN: Yes, there's indications in the cockpit, Paula, that will tell you that the gear is either up or down or partially up or partially down. It's pretty clear and intuitively obvious in the cockpit when the gear is not up and locked.

There are many systems that don't allow the handle to come up or would give you an indication in the forms of lights or warning horns or some combination of those to let you know that the gear is, in fact, not in its proper position. In agreement with the leaver from the airplane.

So there's quite a few systems and the ancillary hydraulic systems and electrical systems and other systems that all tie into these landing gear would give you an indication of what you have.

That's what they're doing now. They're looking at all of this stuff. They're talking to the engineers and accessing all the books. And in the end, sometimes it works out like Jet Blue where you have to land the airplane with the nose wheel cocked to the side and there isn't anything in the book.

I'm losing you right now. I'm losing the signal on my cell phone.

ZAHN: That is okay. Jim, thank you for your expertise. Still with us on the line is Bob Francis. Bob, I'll pause and reset the scene. Thank you very much, Jim Mose. We really appreciate your time.

Reset the scene for folks that are just joining us now. I'd like to tell you we have a -- know a whole lot about what you're seeing on the screen in front of us. But we are operating on the sketchy details we've been provided so far.

An airliner is circling Logan Airport right now. Apparently originally, we're told it has a problem with its right landing gear. Something that was evident shortly after takeoff. But now the Massachusetts Port Authority is telling us that the pilots are attempting to land this plane after reporting seeing sparks of an unknown origin.

The plane is a Boeing 717. It is operated by Midwest Air. The flight number is flight 210 from Boston to Milwaukee. We are told that 91 people are on board. There is a Web site called that tracks commercial aviation.

They have been watching this plane starting to circle, we were told, at 7:42 eastern time. And this is some of the animation you will see if you go to their Web site. But this plane has been flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet since 7:42.

So now we're almost moving up on two hours that has been circling Logan Airport. With us on the phone is the former Vice Chairman of the NTSB Bob Francis, who we rudely interrupted him walking his dog to join us on the air tonight.

He is operating with the same sketchy details that we are. Can you make sense of any of this, Bob, right now?

FRANCIS: I think that if it took off from Mass port, from Logan, and they say that it's got a landing gear problem, the most likely thing is that they're having a problem bringing one of the gears back up into the airplane. And, you know, obviously, if you can't retract your gears, you are not going to continue on the flight with the gears down.

So they're burning off the fuel. That's the speculation. That's a guess. If somebody said takeoff problem and landing gear, that's what I would guess is that it's a problem retracting the gear.

ZAHN: And Bob, we're taking a live feed from WHDH, one of the local affiliates there, giving us a wide shot now of Logan Airport. Earlier we saw what appeared to be emergency vehicle that was on the runway. But as you and I were speaking about a minute and a half ago, we also saw a plane taking off.

So it's your belief that until this emergency landing is ready to go, they'll probably continue to allow flights to take off out of Boston?

FRANCIS: Yes. I think they would keep using the runway until -- you know, there's nothing that we know of that's unsafe about what the 717 is doing. And there's no reason to stop operations at the airport at this point. They obviously will stop them.

You can see in your picture here that there are a lot of emergency equipment being brought out. And Logan has, you know, very, very up to date equipment. So they'll be prepared to do what they have to do. But the pilot and the dispatcher and the maintenance people and the operations people and this airline are going to have to decide how they deal with it.

ZAHN: We are told that the weather is partly cloudy and that the temperature is about 28 degrees. Visibility ten miles. So that's good news, Bob, right? At least we're not dealing with typical winter weather in Boston with winds and snow, that makes one less challenge for the pilots, right?

FRANCIS: Yes. The question and I don't really know the answer, if you had snow on the runway, whether that would somehow be better, but it's not the case.

ZAHN: Now, we have gotten a couple of incorrect reports, but I'm going to go with this one because WHDH is the local affiliate there.

FRANCIS: I believe that is a correct report.

ZAHN: Well, you know what? You're flying by the seat of your pants as I am here tonight, doing the best with what we think is legitimate information. But, thank you for your faith in my abilities. But the local affiliate is now reporting that this plane, the 717 will land in just about ten minutes. Now we were originally told the plane would going to take a stab at this landing 40 minutes ago. So obviously the pilots have to continue to adjust their plan by what they're finding out in the cockpit. Can you, Bob, help us understand what kind of information these pilots might be getting from the tower at Logan right now?

FRANCIS: Well, I don't think they'll be getting anything particularly important. I mean, the tower will tell them what runway they want them to land on. And that's where they will have the equipment. More important is the conversations that will be going on between the pilot and their company in terms of, you know, they've got their training, they've got their procedures to deal with landing gear problems.

And they'll want to make sure that they've gone through -- that the maintenance people and the operations people and wherever their headquarters are, are tied in and say, "You know, this is the way we've trained to do it. And this is what you should do. And these are the conditions, this is the temperature. You've got a runway for a 717 is plenty long."

And so they'll be going through that, preparing, the flight attendants will be preparing the passengers, obviously. And everybody will be sort of boning up on what you do in an emergency landing.

ZAHN: And these pictures, Bob, I might add are a little bit disconcerting to watch against the backdrop of what you're saying. Because we seem to be watching this live feed from WHDH, and perhaps even a helicopter that's up in the air there.

Just the ongoing traffic that's coming in and out of Logan. I think you were with us when we watched the JetBlue pilots heroically and safely land that plane several weeks ago. But what was different about that experience was that at least the control tower could get in daylight, a good sense of how that landing gear was stuck in a sideways position. This is a little bit tougher, is it not, to gauge?

FRANCIS: Yes. Now, the chances that it's the same kind of turn 90 degrees or the chances of that are very, very, very slim. You know, this probably is a problem with either retracting the gear or something like that. It won't lock, so as Jim said earlier, you're getting an indication in the cockpit that your warning lights are coming on and telling you something's wrong.

ZAHN: And once again, for the folks just joining us, we are watching what we hope will be a safe emergency landing at Logan Airport in Boston tonight. The plane is a Boeing 717.

Obviously, you are not seeing it in this picture. But a plane that has been circling since 7:45 Eastern time. So that's almost two hours now. We've been led to believe the plane attempting to burn off fuel before it makes an emergency landing.

Mass. Port Authority is saying that there is a possible problem with this plane's right landing gear. That it is expected to land within the next couple of minutes. But in addition to that, Mass. Port had also said that witnesses, not pilots, but witnesses had noted some sparks from the rear of the plane shortly after takeoff.

And Bob, at the risk of repeating yourself, some folks might have missed this a little bit earlier on. What could those sparks have been caused by, that the witnesses saw as this plane took off?

FRANCIS: Well, the most likely thing is that the pilot -- he or she rotates the aircraft too abruptly, the nose goes up faster than it is supposed to, at an angle too great, and the tail goes down and scrapes along the ground. But, as I said earlier, and as Jim said, aircrafts are designed for that. It's not a rare event. So how that might or might not have something to do with the landing gear, I'm not quite sure.

ZAHN: And Bob, these pictures are a little bit confusing because we don't know exactly what runway we're looking at. But we had seen earlier, I believe a different runway, where you saw some emergency vehicles lined up. And I guess that's what we're seeing under the breaking news banner there.

FRANCIS: The shot is not really of the runway shot. It is of the ramp there now.

ZAHN: Oh, yes. OK, that's what we're looking at. It is hard to make it out. It would be much easier to distinguish all of this in daylight.

FRANCIS: Given what I see, imagine that those vehicles that are there, they're not going to be alongside the runway that he's going to land on, because if he loses control and slides off the runway, they don't want him sliding into a fire truck.

So they'll be mustered someplace where it's as close as they believe it's prudent to have them. And they can get to where they feel the aircraft will probably stop as quickly as possible.

ZAHN: And you were making the point, obviously, that there is nothing unsafe about what this plane is doing right now, trying to burn off fuel so it comes in a little bit lighter as it lands, to reduce the risk of a fire on impact if there is in fact a problem with this right landing gear. What else do these pilots have to do to bring this plane in safely?

FRANCIS: Well, I mean, they've got to -- again depending on what the problem is, if they've got a situation where the nose gear and the left gear are extended and locked and the right gear is up or vice versa, you can, you know, it is obviously tricky. You want to land on the wheels and have yourself go as far as you can go down the runway before the lift of the airplane departs. And you come down on, presumably a wing. Given what we know now.

ZAHN: And I want to update a little bit more information that we're getting from an airport spokesman, Phil Orlandella, who is now saying that this plane is carrying 81 people on board. He's also saying that the nature of the plane's landing gear problems is not clear at this hour.

You have also seen in this live picture being fed from WHDH, that the time of the emergency landing keeps on getting moved back from 9:45 now to 9:50. There isn't anything terribly revealing about that, is there? Don't these pilots just have to continue to assess the information and try to burn the amount of fuel they think they need to burn to try to bring this plane in safely?

FRANCIS: Yes, and they want to be very clear in their own mind, along with the spokesmen from their company and probably the chief pilot or whoever it is. You know, exactly how they're going to deal with whatever the problem is. And these are things that -- you know, these are things that pilots -- this isn't the first time that these people have ever faced this. Maybe in real life. But you know, the simulation, in training, the pilots are exposed to these kinds of things.

ZAHN: I think you remember from going through the JetBlue emergency landing weeks ago that I guess we were all struck by the amazing degree of confidence and calm that the pilots showed and, you know, it was made abundantly clear to us that this was an exercise that pilots rehearse for and are very prepared to pull off.

FRANCIS: And in the JetBlue case, the pilots had a lot of help because he was talking to another JetBlue pilot who had been in a similar situation previously.

And there may be well somebody in Midwest or in another airline that's been on the telephone talking to this pilot saying, "You know, I went through this and this is how I handled it and you should be careful about this."

So there's a lot of mutual assistance and aid that goes on in the community in things like this. Everybody is obviously enormous enormously interested in getting the aircraft and the passengers on the ground safely.

The other thing I would say is that it's a wonderful airport if you have to have this kind of a problem, to have it at Boston Logan. Because these folks are really the best in terms of they do a lot of training and they're widely acknowledged in the industry as being one of the best airports in terms of training and emergency preparedness and exercises. So it's a good -- I feel comfortable that they're at Logan in a way that I wouldn't necessarily about other airports that I know about.

ZAHN: And Bob, let's talk once again about the configuration of this airplane. A Boeing 717. Massport Authority, which runs the airport, now confirming 81 people on board.

But this plane has two main wheels under the wing, and then a wheel on the nose. So if, in fact, and the spokesperson Phil Orlandella is telling us it is not clear what exactly the nature of this plane's landing gears problems are, but if you do have a problem with one of those pieces, the triangle, whether it's like you said, the gear won't retract or whatever it is, what does that mean upon impact as you land?

FRANCIS: Well, its as soon as the aircraft gets to the ground and starts slowing down, whatever wheel or wheels are down will touch first. Then you want to keep the aircraft as much as you can just on that one wheel until there's no lift in the wings left. And obviously then the aircraft will tip down in the other direction where the wheel or wheels are not down. And you are going to be skidding along the runway at that point.

ZAHN: And the risk, of course, at that point --

FRANCIS: And you obviously want to be going as slowly as you can when that tip down happens. I shouldn't say this isn't serious, but --

ZAHN: Bob, I'm going to cut you off for a second. We're hearing from WHDH that they are confirming that this very plane we now see in our shot now on this full screen is the very 717 that everybody is watching very carefully since 7:45, when it started burning fuel, we believe at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

FRANCIS: He's got all his landing lights on.

ZAHN: Just as we watch and WHDH reporting the tower has given them permission to land. Is there anything else remarkable or interesting about what you are seeing right here, Bob?

FRANCIS: No. Because we don't have any sort of any sort of perspective on the runway. The only thing I would say is there's certainly not any other parts going on in the airport at this point.

They will have cleared everything as far away from this runway as they can. And now the emergency vehicles will be there, now, training. This is the time that training is so important. Everyone's training. Pilot training, flight attendant training. Emergency rescue people, fire departments. So this is when it all pays off.

ZAHN: Bob, we're going to pause --

FRANCIS: Doesn't happen that often.

ZAHN: Bob, we're going to pause for a second and see if we can take in any of the ambient sound that's being fed to us from WHDH. Let's watch this together.

Once again, we're all watching an emergency landing of Midwest Flight 210 which took off from Logan International Airport earlier tonight. It was headed for Milwaukee. Pilots upon takeoff reporting some kind of a problem.

You can see sparks flying from that right main landing gear. Bob, can you see anything in this picture we need to understand about all the sparks flying off the right main landing gear?

FRANCIS: I think those are probably the sparks that somebody thought was coming from the tail. But you know, they're getting pretty slow now. And I think unless something happens here pretty quickly, they're not going very fast. It looks like everything's holding up.

ZAHN: Oh, my god. That's exactly what you wanted to see, isn't it?

FRANCIS: Absolutely. And it's a testament to training and the enormous safety of the design and the construction of aircraft.

ZAHN: An absolutely extraordinary thing to watch. Especially when there was a tremendous amount of conjecture what possibly could have gone wrong. This really is a testament to the pilots and everything involved in making this plane fly, isn't it, Bob?

FRANCIS: Yes. You'll see the fire trucks will be out there because they'll start -- they're going to be concerned about heat in the right landing gear. So that fire truck will be right in that area pretty quickly. Right next to the right wing.

ZAHN: Right, obviously from this angle we couldn't see anything going on on the left-hand side of the plane. But -- Massport Authority officials confirming about a half hour ago that in fact, the problem seemed to be confined to that right landing gear.

We're going to watch this plane one more time. Midwest Airlines Flight 210, as it safely lands at Boston's Logan International Airport.

FRANCIS: Nice picture, huh?

ZAHN: What a sense of relief. I can't imagine how any of those 81 passengers on board must have felt. I'm sure that the pilots try to -- or at least flight attendants tried to walk them through the process of what they were doing as they seem to circle endlessly.

FRANCIS: There was applause in that airplane, I'll tell you that. It's interesting, in Boston, some of the fire trucks in Boston have a heat sensor that they can aim at an airplane and see where the hottest points are. So I would suspect that they might be using that here.

ZAHN: You said they very quickly can get a reading how much heat is being thrown off?

FRANCIS: Yes. For instance, if it's much hotter there than it is in other gears. It will show brakes very, very clearly. And if you had a fire in the back of the airplane, it would show you exactly where the fire is. So that's where they can deal with it.

ZAHN: Bob, please pause for a second. Because joining us on the line is Ryan Johnson, who is a photographer with one of the local newspapers. Ryan, who do you work for. Who do you take pictures for?

O'RYAN JOHNSON: This is O'Ryan Johnson, I'm a reporter with The Boston Herald.

ZAHN: Describe to us what you have just seen. We're looking at a shot that was pretty high up. What did you see from the ground?

JOHNSON: From the ground it looked like kind of a normal landing to be honest with you. There was obviously some concern over here as to some pilots report about seeing sparks coming from the right landing gear.

There is a horde of local media out here waiting to greet the plane. We all saw it land safely. I don't think anybody, our photog out here didn't catch any sparks when the plane was coming down. But I haven't talked to the TV folks to see if they caught any.

ZAHN: Describe to us the sense of relief that any of you must have felt when you saw this plane safely come down.

JOHNSON: I think what everybody saw yesterday in Florida, there was definitely some heightened sense of alert out here, I guess you would say. When we saw the plane come down, we were definitely relieved.

ZAHN: You know, O'Ryan better than anybody else, you've been out there talking to the Port Authority officials, there's been confusion about the exact landing gear problems. But we watched it land and saw the sparks fly off the right main landing gear and the heat caused by it, I guess that seems to be the source of the problem. Has anybody confirmed that on the ground for you?

JOHNSON: No, they haven't. The thing that eased our minds here was the plane was coming in the pilot radioed in to say he did not need emergency assistance to greet him on the ground. That's what we heard over the radios. It looks like they met him out there anyway.

ZAHN: Can you give us a sense, because we're looking at a pretty tight shot now, of these emergency vehicles approaching or at least stopping pretty close by the plane, how many vehicles are out there and what you see in a broader view?

JOHNSON: It looks like there were a few ambulances at least one fire truck out there. Even from where I'm standing, which is pretty close to the runway, it is still kind of hard to see how many emergency vehicles are out there and what they're doing.

If you guys have a tighter shot, you may be able to see more than me.

ZAHN: We are looking at a shot that seems to be four or five fire fighters under the right wing, Not far from the main landing gear that apparently triggered this scare.

Help us better understand how the traffic continues to come in and out of this airport. It appeared to us from the live shot that WHDH was feeding us that planes were landing and taking off actually within minutes of this emergency landing.

JOHNSON: I was going to say something when we were on the phone there, looks like they're still landing planes out here. So they were feeling safe doing that, which should come to a relief to the people on board the aircraft.

ZAHN: That was an interesting piece of information that the pilots radioed in that they didn't need any additional help. That must have come as some surprise to people who were focusing in on the tragedy of what happened in Florida and being reminded of that Jet Blue emergency landing with a far different outcome, a very successful one.

JOHNSON: yes. I think everybody is pretty happy with how things have turned out out here.

ZAHN: It looks like now that, okay, we're concentrating now on the front part, the nose of the plane.

O'Ryan Johnson, thank you very much for your up to date reporting. Bob Francis, just a final word from you.

FRANCIS: They're hooking up to toe it in. One of the interesting things in both Jet Blue and this flight, you'll note that the nose gear ended up right on the center line of the runway. That's a tribute to pilotage as well.

ZAHN: Can't get any closer than that.

Bob Francis, formerly of the NTSB. We really appreciated your excellent guidance as we watched this drama unfold tonight and this is the way you want a drama to end.

With a successful emergency landing with those pilots bringing down that plane. Burning a lot of fuel to bring it in as light as they could and parking it right on the center line there.

Again, Bob Francis, thank you for your time, and pilot Jim Mose, your perspective as well.

CNN's coverage of this still developing story continues with John King who's filling in for Anderson Cooper tonight just down the hall in New York City.


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