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American Airlines Flight Experiences Mechanical Problem; Controversy Surrounds "State of the Black Union"

Aired February 22, 2008 - 15:00   ET


JOHN REGAS, COMMERCIAL PILOT: Just as a reference, that's -- that looks like a 737. And I think the -- the best way to look for the MD-80, the engines will be on the tail and not under the wings. Anyway, it may take a couple of hours to burn down to a good landing weight. It all depends.
And, in an urgent situation, you can land overweight. It just demands additional inspections. And there is a greater chance of some small damage to the plane. It all depends on the exact amount of fuel and the exact amount of passengers. I do think a good hour, hour-and- a-half, and we will be in the ballpark for landing.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, miles and John Regas.

We're obviously going to keep following all of this throughout top of the hour, which it is right now, 3:00 Eastern, as we watch this affiliate, WSVN, out of Miami show us some pictures coming from the Miami International Airport, live pictures, as we wait for an American Airlines flight, 862, from Palm Beach to Chicago that has been diverted to the Miami International Airport to land.

But as you have been hearing, there is an unspecified technical problem. What we understand from Miles and the commercial pilot that we just spoke to, John Regas, is that this could very much be dealing with the landing gear on this plane. As it was taking off, it was trying to retract that landing gear. And at this point it doesn't seem like that was able to go.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And you and I were talking here, traveling a lot, and most people travel, you can hear that landing gear when it retracts when you're taking off and you know that it's retracting because it sort of makes that click and then also, you know, a little bit of a bump there in the plane.

NGUYEN: Right.

LEMON: So you know what's happening.

We want to bring our Chad Myers in, who is tracking this, too, over in the Weather Center from our flight tracker.

And, Chad, you heard him burning off the fuel. Apparently the weather is pretty good down there in the Florida area. They can't dump fuel even over the ocean.


LEMON: But it's going to take them quite a while. What is it? The flight from Miami? Probably a two-hour flight into Chicago's O'Hare, so it is going to take some time, so they can dump enough fuel, so they can be able to land and meet the weight specifications for landing that plane.


MYERS: Well, here's how it goes on this flight.

It was supposed to take off at 1:35. It left at 1:56, so it left 21 minutes late. And it wasn't supposed to arrive in Chicago until 4:23. So, we have to realize we have to add another couple minutes to that, too, because now they are just spinning around not at full throttle really trying to burn it off, so we may be here until 4:00 something before this plane is actually light enough to get on the ground, like the pilot said.

You will know the plane as the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 because it has the engines on the very, very back of the fuselage. They're kind of side by side there back by the back tail. And that's a loud plane in the back. You know those -- if you're in back, and you're in row 40 something, you know the engines are there because it's a very loud airplane, where if you see the engines on the wings, that is not the MD-82 or other people know it as an MD-88, just different models of basically the same airplane.

LEMON: OK. Chad, stand by. We appreciate your perspective.

Betty has some new information for us.

NGUYEN: Yes. We are learning from the public information officer at the Miami International Airport that this plane could be landing within the next 10 minutes. Of course, we're going to be watching that.

But we want to take you on the ground there in Miami to CNN's Susan Candiotti. She is watching all of this unfold and joins us with the latest of what she was able to get on the ground there.

What do you know, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, this information actually is coming to us from our affiliate WSVN. We are also monitoring them as we would normally do. And they are hearing radio traffic that is telling them that the intent of the pilot fairly soon is to attempt a flyby by the air traffic control tower so that the control tower personnel, the air traffic controllers, can get a look at the plane, see how it looks from the outside, to decide which runway and in which direction they want to try to have this plane land once it dumps as much fuel as it possibly can.

So, that's the intent right now. And we're also hearing from the FAA that it may not be an issue with the landing gear or it is not the nose gear. It has to do with the nose gear door, and that is what we are hearing directly from the FAA spokeswoman in Atlanta.

So, it's the nose gear door, not the nose gear itself. In any case, they are going to be doing a flyby the tower. And we will keep an eye, of course, on the visuals that we have now to see whether we can see that plane. We have not yet gotten a glance at it. We know what the model looks like. We're keeping an eye out for it, but haven't seen it yet.

NGUYEN: Well, Susan, let me ask you this, Susan, as you're there on the ground and are able to maybe catch a view of it. As they're waiting for this plane to come down, fire and rescue crews, are they already there at the airport?

CANDIOTTI: Yes. And that, of course, would be a matter of standard operating procedures. All airports and in particularly Miami-Dade International Airport very used to handling a potential crisis like this, so all of its gear, all of the engines, fire engines and the like, would be in a standby mode.

Among other things, of course, they have got fire-retardant foam that they can stand ready to spray on the plane as soon as it lands in order to prevent the possibility of any heat, any flames from flaring up, if that should be necessary.

And so we have seen a number of those on the ground right now. Let's see. I'm not sure whether that is the plane. It is an American Airlines' plane. No, it is not it. It is definitely not the one in question. So, we will keep an eye out for it.

Yes, we have seen a number of fire engines on site. And naturally, there are a number of runways there. The air traffic control tower is fairly new, actually, the one that is at Miami International Airport. So, that would be something that they would want to be prepared for any eventuality. So, in the meantime we're just waiting to see. You can only imagine what the passengers and crew may be thinking.

NGUYEN: Or what's being said to them as they're trying to circle around and burn this fuel.

We're going to turn back to the pilot that we spoke with just momentarily. But, Susan Candiotti, check in with us as you get more information.

One thing that we do want to clarify once again as we have been talking about this plane that is trying to burn enough fuel so that it can attempt a landing, American Airlines Flight 862, I'm being told by our producer that we believe this is the plane right there that is trying to land, the plane that was going from Palm Beach to Chicago which has been diverted to Miami International Airport.

We have Miles O'Brien on the phone?

LEMON: Yes, we do have Miles O'Brien.

Quickly, but I'm not sure it's trying to land, Miles. Can you see these pictures from where you are?



LEMON: Again, we think it's burning off fuel.

I want to talk to you, Miles, about this before you bring the pilot in. The problem is the nose gear door, not the nose gear. So, if it's the door, does it pose any major problem to a landing here? Go ahead.

O'BRIEN: Yes. There could be a problem with the nose gear door which does not mean that landing gear itself is down and locked. That's a possibility. A lot of it has to do right now with what kind of indication they're getting inside the cockpit.

And, you know, as John Regas was referring to just a little while ago, a lot of these problems can just be a faulty lightbulb. And that's part of the troubleshooting you go through here is to make sure that just the green light that you would get that would indicate that the gear was down and locked, just make sure that lightbulb isn't burned out, so...

LEMON: Hey, Miles, talk to us about -- we heard Susan talk about the emergency apparatus that they would put on the runway. And do you remember the old emergency landings with the foam and what have you? Not that they would need this in this case, but talk to us about how the airport is possibly preparing for this and then also what is going on, on board this plane, how the passengers are being notified.

O'BRIEN: Well, for one thing, as far as the airport goes, probably one of the big reasons you are seeing them make this attempt at Miami is for a lot of reasons, longer runways, and because of the capabilities there with the apparatus and the responders that they would have there.

They don't foam runways anymore. That whole idea turned out to be kind of a silly idea, because you would have to kind of sort of predict where the airplane is going to be landing. You don't have enough foam to foam a whole runway. So, they just -- they line up along the runway, try to be in a logical place where the plane might come to rest and respond as quickly as they can.

As for the passengers, you know, the pilots have their hands full right now. I don't suspect they're talking very much to the passengers. This is a case where the flight attendants would earn their keep and earn their money and all those (INAUDIBLE) they have.


LEMON: Hey, Miles?


O'BRIEN: ... in training.

LEMON: Hey, Miles, don't mean to cut you off there. But stand by, and we're going to listen in on this, because I think we may -- are we hearing cockpit? We're hearing some traffic here, Miles. Stand by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American 294, have you change your runway to runway 26 left, runway 26 left. Clear to land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two-six left, clear to land, American 294.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) 7738, cross runway 26 left, then contact ground (INAUDIBLE) traffic 2-and-a-half-mile (INAUDIBLE) for that runway.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American 1510 heavy contact departure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Sorry about that. We're heading east right now. (INAUDIBLE)

LEMON: OK, Miles, we're going -- as it gets closer, because I think that they were burning fuel off now, so they are probably not in the position they are to land.

I'm sure Betty has some questions here. But I want to talk to you about the pilots and all the positions and that sort of thing, Miles. And I cut you off before, and you were giving us some important information. So, please continue.

O'BRIEN: What you were hearing there was the air traffic control frequency for the control tower. And obviously the airport is still open and they're still handling other traffic and that's what they're referring to. So, this is this is actually, you know, borderline routine activity, in the sense that it is an abnormal situation, yes, but they are used to handling an aircraft like this that is having to circulate around, burn some fuel off, do some low passes, while the flight crew tries to go through its checklist and troubleshoot this problem.

And so we can listen, of course, for the tower. They're going to -- basically it will sound like most any conversation between the control tower and the flight crew.

LEMON: And it's also the same thing that -- I mean in some -- I know that United, for instance, and maybe on some other airlines, you can actually tune in and listen to the pilots and the control tower speak to each other as you're flying.



LEMON: So, Miles, quickly stand by. We're going to get back to you. Hang on one second, OK?

NGUYEN: Yes, Miles, we're going to bring in Chad Myers who has been watching this as well.

And, Chad, I know you're been following the maps, too, to see what the traffic is like coming out of Miami International Airport. What are you seeing at this time?

MYERS: Well, I think what was a little bit confusing when we tried to listen to the control tower and the control tower really wasn't even talking to American Airlines 862, talking to other planes.

Take a look at Flight Explorer, flight tracker here. This airport obviously still open. An awful lot of planes still in the sky. I can count maybe 50 or 60 just in that little Miami area. And then's South Dade back over into the Everglades area. So, yes, the air traffic controllers are worried about 862, but they also have to get other planes on and off the ground.

So, Miles, in a busy situation, I know the planes aren't this big, but there's a lot of planes on that map.

Miles, you still there?


NGUYEN: Yes, I'm not sure Miles is still with us.

LEMON: I think, yes, he's standing by, probably some getting new information.

MYERS: OK. Fair enough.

NGUYEN: But it's quite a dance, though, in order for them to get the other people where they need to go but at the same time allow time and space for American Airlines Flight 862 to go ahead and circle around and continue to do so as it burns the fuel, Chad.

MYERS: Absolutely. I can put the little tracker on this to show where all these planes are coming from. Let's just start that. Let's go right to that plane and see where he is. Because I'm sure he's coming in. We will put a tag on this little guy right there. Show the tag, and there's the flight. He's at 7,500 feet going down 240 miles per hour. So, all these numbers mean something.

You have to realize that Flight Explorer is delayed by eight to 10 minutes. They don't tell us how much because it's kind of this random moving target. They don't want anybody in the world to know where every plane is at all times. So, this plane has already gone by the Miami Airport, even though here on this little bit of the delay, it still shows the airplane not quite to the airport.

We already know we saw it on visually where it was. We saw it fly by. So, that's why maybe some of these exact dots are not in the right places because it's delayed and on purpose.

NGUYEN: All right, Chad, stand by, as we're going to continue to follow this. Don has got some new video that he wants to show us.

LEMON: Yes. And Chad actually set this up pretty well here, showing how the plane -- this is how just moments ago how the plane -- we know it's circling, right, to burn off that fuel. It sort of dipped and then...

NGUYEN: You can kind of see that door, if that indeed is what they were talking about, the nose gear door.


LEMON: Well, I'm not sure, because it would be -- if it would be the nose gear door that far back, because you see on that particular instance there, that the landing gear in the front and also in back are out. So, you could be correct.

We're going to check in with, but just -- we're going to check in with Miles O'Brien to find out. But see how it came down like it was going to land and then all of a sudden it took a steep incline to go back to burn off some fuel.

And so I see our Susan Candiotti standing by in Miami and she is waving her arms to try to get on.

Do we have Susan there? Susan, you have some new information for us?


LEMON: As we look at the emergency apparatus that Susan mentioned moments ago.

Go ahead, Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Don, we just got off the phone, one of our producers, with the Miami-Dade Fire Department.

They tell us for whatever reason, and we are trying to get more detail right now, they consider this to be on the lowest of their alerts actually as you see a shot there of one of fire engines at the fire station there located right at the airport right on the ground, in a standby mode. Again, they just consider themselves to be in a standby mode at this time at the lowest stage of alert.

Also a spokesman for the fire department tells us that their information is that, in fact, the landing gear is locked in place. So, apparently they don't think there's a problem with that at the -- at the moment anyway.


LEMON: Susan, hey, sorry.

We have some new information. We will get back with you. Thanks. OK?

NGUYEN: Indeed, we do.

We have Martha Pantin. She is a spokesperson for American Airlines. She joins us by phone.

Martha, what can you tell us about this plane that is trying to land?

MARTHA PANTIN, AMERICAN AIRLINES SPOKESPERSON: Well, all I can tell you right now is that there is apparently an issue with the nose gear on Flight 862.


NGUYEN: Is it the nose gear or the nose gear door?

PANTIN: The nose gear is what I have. But they're talking to maintenance. They're also circling to get rid of some fuel. They have 133 passengers aboard, a crew of five. And as soon as they land, we will have more information, but there's really not much more than that I can say besides saying it's -- the type of aircraft, it is an MD-80. It was from -- going from Palm Beach to Chicago O'Hare.

NGUYEN: And you said 130 passengers plus five crew?

PANTIN: No, 133 passengers and five crew.

NGUYEN: Got you. That's different from what we had a little bit earlier. And I just want to clarify one more time, because Kathleen Bergen with the FAA called in to CNN and said the problem is with the nose gear door, not the nose gear itself. Now, you say that's not the case.

PANTIN: You know, I don't know because this is just the preliminary information that I have. It could be what she said. As soon as I have more information, I will be happy to get back to you.

NGUYEN: All right, and you don't have any indication as to how long it would take for this plane to possibly burn the fuel that it's trying to burn so that it can land?

PANTIN: It should take about 10 more minutes.

NGUYEN: Oh, 10 more minutes? OK. So this thing is going to be coming down pretty soon. What happens on board a plane when something like this occurs? What is being said to the passengers?


PANTIN: Well, you know, the passengers are told to stay calm. The flight attendants have told everybody to put their trays up, to put their seat-backs up. And the pilots are also -- at the same time they are talking to maintenance to try to resolve some issues.

NGUYEN: All right. Martha, we appreciate your time.

(CROSSTALK) PANTIN: Thank you very much.

NGUYEN: Joining us with American Airlines, as we watch this plane attempt to land in about 10 minutes, she says.

Now, we heard that a little bit earlier, and, of course, this is so fluid as it is trying to burn off the fuel necessary to make a landing that is safe for all on board and those at the airport.


And in case you're just joining us, 16 past the hour, 3:16 here in the East. We're following breaking news here in the CNN NEWSROOM. This is Don Lemon, along with Betty Nguyen here in Atlanta.

American Airlines Flight 862 from Palm Beach to Chicago being diverted from Miami International Airport, or to Miami International Airport, due to a problem we are told with the nose gear. Not sure if it's the nose gear or the nose gear door. We have been given information by two different sources on this about this.

But we know that it's, in fact, a problem. It's a technical problem believed to be the nose gear. Just told moments ago 133 passengers plus five crew members. That plane is now burning off fuel and trying to land at as soon as it burns off enough fuel that it meets the weight specifications to make it safe to land at Miami International Airport.

Again, we saw it make one attempt as if it was going to land and then went back up into the air, did an incline to go back up into the air to continue to circle to try to burn off some fuel.

NGUYEN: And as we continue to watch this, just to put it all in perspective, yes, it's trying to burn enough fuel so they can make a safe landing. But as we were talking to Chad Myers a little bit earlier, it's not like Miami International Airport is shut down because of this. In fact, planes are taking off and they are still landing. And it's just pretty much a balancing act in order for them to make sure that American Airlines Flight 862 can circle enough and long enough so that they can burn the fuel and then come in for a safe landing.

At the same time, of course, there's a lot of concern to make sure that this airline, or this flight, is able to make it on the ground safely. But, you know, the folks on the ground, the emergency crews, say this is not a serious level of alert. In fact, they say it's the least serious of the alerts, but they are on standby just in case.

LEMON: And it's an alert one, as we said, right? Alert one status, not the serious of alerts. That's according to the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department.

Scottie (ph), I don't know if we have a picture of all the emergency apparatus, if you can find that for us, to show us how the airport is exactly preparing for it. There we go, coming up now. That's at least one emergency vehicle, Betty, there on the ground. You can bet there are going to be a lot more.

This plane took off from the airport, West Palm Beach Airport, which I believe, Miles O'Brien, PBI, on its way to Chicago, but not anymore, going to Miami International Airport.

O'BRIEN: A surprise trip to Miami for this group. But I have a hunch it's going to turn out OK.

I have been on the line here talking with John Regas, an airline captain, Don, about this issue. And just looking at that MD-82, as it flew by in that low pass, it looks like that gear is in pretty good shape. And, John, I want you to just quickly join in with us and give us your possible scenario that we could be looking at here.

REGAS: I think after takeoff for some reason the nose landing gear doors did not sequence properly, which would allow the nose landing gear, the actual wheel that you see there, to retract.

And that can happen. It looks to me like the nose landing gear's in good shape, and it will -- the plane will land safely. They're probably coming to Miami for a number of reasons. Miles indicated, quite properly, that longer runways are available. But it's also a major maintenance base for American Airlines.

And I'm sure they have been talking to their maintenance crews, via radio, getting some extra advice. They're burning their fuel down to the proper landing weight, only, only, to avoid additional inspections or additional stress on the aircraft.

And Miles was quite right earlier saying that they don't foam runways anymore. They really stopped that in the civilian world more than 20 years ago for lots of reasons. And they're too gruesome actually to explain due to what they used to use for foam in the old days. They don't use that high-protein foam, as the firefighters call it now.

LEMON: Hey, John Regas, John Regas and Miles O'Brien, thank you very much.

And we want to welcome our international viewers from countries around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM here in the United States, 3:20 Eastern time. We're watching an American Airlines Flight 862 originally scheduled to leave from West Palm Beach Airport to Chicago O'Hare International Airport, but has now been diverted because of a technical problem we believe to be with the nose gear.

I'm Don Lemon here with Betty Nguyen in the CNN NEWSROOM. This is believed to be the flight coming in that we just saw seconds ago from -- burning fuel, really, burning off fuel before it can land. You are looking at the emergency apparatus on the runway here at Miami International Airport.


NGUYEN: In fact, it's been burning fuel for the past, I don't know, 30-plus minutes. And this is a flight that carries 133 passengers plus five crew members. And as Don said, it was headed from Palm Beach to Chicago today when they discovered a problem with the nose gear. We're not exactly sure if it was the nose gear itself or the nose gear door. We have been told a couple different things.

But the main point of contention right now is making sure that they can burn off enough fuel in order for this flight to safely land. But should there be any problems, which is another reason why they have been diverted to Miami International Airport, is what you see there on the ground. Crews are available and ready to assist them, should they need.

But not to alert you too deeply in regards to this, because those on the ground, the emergency crews say that this is just a level one when it comes to the seriousness of this matter. Although they are going to take it very cautiously, at the same point, this is not a high-alert situation.

And the Miami International Airport has continued to have flights flying out and landing as all of this is occurring in the sky, as Flight -- American Airlines Flight 862 continues to circle the airport to burn off enough fuel.

Now, we have been told over the past 20 minutes or so that the flight was going to land within the next 10 minutes. So, that's why we have been watching it so closely as it does come in for a landing.

LEMON: Looking at every flight that has an American Airlines on it.


LEMON: Yes. So, we don't know.

But here's what we are being told here at CNN. The problem, again, is with the nose gear door, and not the nose gear itself. And they said that the nose gear was down and locked, the landing gear for some reason, but -- and saw that. And we saw the initial...

NGUYEN: You can see it right here on this picture.

LEMON: Yes, we saw the initial attempt at landing and then the plane, of course, went back up, so, again, you know, trying to burn off fuel. But if they are saying it's a problem with the nose gear door, then why would the landing gear be down and locked? So...

NGUYEN: Maybe it's just a precaution to make sure everything is working properly before they decide to take the risk and land. They definitely want to make sure all things are in place in order to make a safe landing.


NGUYEN: Do we have Chad Myers available to us?

LEMON: Or Miles.


NGUYEN: Because he has been watching this.

And, Chad, as we have been talking about it, it's really a well- orchestrated machine here as they try to move all these moving parts in order to keep the airport up and running, but at the same time allow enough room and time for American Airlines Flight 862 to come in for a safe landing.

MYERS: Well, to be very honest, this is not a rare event. Lights go on and off all the time, I don't know how many times a week, but it happens. And so that's why it's only a level one alert, because it's not -- this is not the side or the back landing gear that's the problem.

If you have a problem with the rear gear, you're trying to land on both sides. If one gear doesn't go down or doesn't go up, then all of a sudden you're going to be sliding a wing along the tarmac, rather than just maybe scraping the nose. Even if the nose does fail on a plane, you still have two good wheels, your landing gear, your rear gear, still on the ground, still with good braking, although you may not have as good a steering.

That nose wheel really doesn't steer much unless you're only going about 15, 20 miles per hour when you're doing your taxiing. You're going to be using your brakes. You're going to be using your feet. You're going to be doing a whole lot of things to keep the plane going straight even if you lose your front gear. So, that's why it's not such a big deal to these people here.

Plus, this plane now left West Palm at 1:56 p.m., so now that's an hour-and-a-half. That's a pretty good amount of fuel that they're burning off. So, now that we're seeing the equipment out onto the tarmac, onto these lines, you can see these lines that these guys are going to following -- so, the planes will be following those lines, too.

That's the ground traffic. There you go. Now I believe that this plane is probably going to try to come in at some point in time rather quickly, because they don't just put these trucks out there for no reason in the way of other aircraft.

NGUYEN: And as this plane is circling around preparing for landing, let me ask you, Chad, is this something that they continue to, I don't know, keep pushing that button hoping that the nose gear door will come up or do they leave it as is and try to make the best landing possible?

MYERS: They will cycle it a couple of times, but then after they cycle it a couple of times, there's no reason to try it anymore, because you don't -- once they went by the tower here just a little bit ago and the airplane saw it and the helicopter saw it, that nose gear was down pretty solid. It wasn't three-quarters, 45-degree angle. It was pretty straight up and down.

NGUYEN: There's that shot of it. MYERS: So, they don't want to get it in the wrong spot. They don't want it to get to be breaking somewhere else when they know that it's in this condition and in this position itself.

I remember -- I'm not even sure how long ago this was -- maybe a year-and-a-half ago, maybe two -- we had a nose gear issue on the air and the deal was that the nose gear, the wheels were actually cocked sideways, almost at a 90-degree angle. So we knew when the wheel hit the ground, it wasn't going to be a good outcome. At least we see the wheels here going with the airplane, not cocked sideways. And it does look like that's a pretty good picture.


NGUYEN: Well, that' something I wanted to ask you. If it indeed is the nose gear door, which it pretty much kind of looked like that -- I'm no expert. But you could see the door still open there. Is that much of a problem? Is it really going to hamper a plane landing safely?

REGAS: Well, no, not at all.

And the part that we're splitting hairs with here is it's most likely that the light for the door didn't go off or didn't go on. It basically said this door is not closed. So, that didn't close because the gear wouldn't allow to it close. Or you're going to have this little door -- or the gear was perfectly fine, and the door just didn't seat properly.

So, you know, we're just really splitting hairs here. Until they get it on the ground and the crews can take a look at it, they're not really going to know why the light was -- was the light -- the door didn't close because the gear didn't go all the way up or the light didn't go off, doesn't go on because the gear just kind of got up there fine, but then the door just didn't seat properly?

There's an awful lot of things. We talk about the space shuttle having a million parts. Well, the space shuttle only goes up once in a while. Right now -- let me look -- there are 5,739 planes in the sky right now over North America, almost 6,000 planes.

And so there's a lot more moving parts right now in the sky than a million. So, at sometimes -- sometimes, things just go wrong. But you can tell the why they are worrying about this, not the plane, because the engines are on the wings, but because they're not even worried about this even farther than saying, hey, we're just going to burn it off, we're going to land, we think it's going to be great, I think this is going to be a nonevent.

NGUYEN: And we do want to let our viewers know that the plane that we're watching right now is just another plane that is presumably coming in for a landing. And we do not know if indeed this is American Airlines Flight 862. But, of course, we will be watching it.

And, Chad, as you have been mentioning, though, this plane left at 1:56 p.m. Eastern time. MYERS: Right. Yes.

NGUYEN: It's had about, what, an hour-and-a-half now to burn off fuel?

MYERS: Correct. Its flight time was supposed to be about two- and-a-half-hours to Chicago. So, it's just say it's almost over Kentucky right now.


LEMON: Hey, real quickly, real quickly, guys, we don't know. Are you listening to the chatter there? Do we know if this indeed the plane? We're not sure.

MYERS: It is not.


LEMON: This is not the plane? OK.


LEMON: We're being told it's not the plane.


LEMON: Hey, Chad, thank you.

We want to get real quick -- let's go back to Miles O'Brien. Miles, of course, is a pilot himself, knows a lot about this MD-82, correct, Miles? I want to know about the features.


O'BRIEN: This is not it, of course.

LEMON: This is not it. OK.

O'BRIEN: Say again?

LEMON: I want to know about the features on this plane. And Betty brings up a good point. Are they going to keep trying? Or what happens? Obviously, we know, at this point, this is a -- just a precaution, the lowest level of alert that you can really have at the airport.


LEMON: So, go ahead. Continue, Miles.


O'BRIEN: Think about that you just have to kind of walk yourself through this scenario for just a moment. This is an airplane that had just taken off from Palm Beach and in the course of taking off, of course, one of the first things they do is raise the nose gear. Something happened in that event, that sequencing event. For whatever reason, either the nose gear did not retract at all or the door did not shut, improper sequence or something happened which made the pilots think that something was awry.

But I think what is very likely in the scenario, whatever happened that didn't work, it prevented the gear from not closing, but it appears, to all viewing here, that it is still in the down and locked position, which it would have been as it was taking off. So, in that situation, if that's kind of the presumption and if that's what they -- of course, the maintenance folks and the FAA have had -- had a look as it made that low pass, along with all of us. They are probably not going to mess with it too much.

They will probably just let it be. And, at this point, really, all it amounts to is just getting to the right landing weight and bringing this plane in for a landing, which will probably be a routine end to what was an unusual flight for a lot of passengers.

Now let's remember this, too -- and Chad makes a good point -- of all three landing gear to lose, the two mains and the nose gear, the nose gear is the preferable one to lose because you don't have that asymmetric situation. You're not hitting that catawampus (ph).

LEMON: Hey, Miles?


LEMON: Hey, Miles, we have someone on the phone that's going to give us some information. We need to get to them real quick so they can get back to their job.

But, again, 3:30 p.m. Eastern. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. We're watching a problem with an American Airlines Flight in Miami.

NGUYEN: Yes, Flight 862 is attempting to come in for a landing very shortly -- we've been told within the next 10 minutes.

Let's take you on the phone now to Max Fajardo. He is the Miami International Airport deputy director.

And Mr. Fajardo, go ahead and tell us what you know so far about this plane that is attempting to land.

MAX FAJARDO, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Well, what we know right now is that the plane left West Palm and experience has been discussed -- experienced landing gear problems and diverted to Miami. It's burning fuel right now and it's due here in about 10 minutes.

We've obviously activated our emergency procedures, getting ready for this event -- if there is going to be an event. It just so happens that yesterday we had our tri-annual disaster drill, so we feel we're ready should any occurrences happen.

NGUYEN: And we understand, according to the emergency personnel on the ground, this is just a level one. And to put it all in perspective, this is something that you deal with not routinely, but periodically, and when it comes to the seriousness of it, this is on the lower rung.

FAJARDO: Absolutely. But you know -- absolutely. All I can say is that we're -- you know, we're obviously anxiously waiting. But it looks like it's going to be a non-event. But in case that we are, then we're ready for it.

NGUYEN: And as we watch this come in, what are your crews preparing for, as they're waiting for this plane to land?

FAJARDO: Well, right now, the fire trucks are obviously in position, ready to pursue the aircraft when it lands. And basically we have everyone on standby. We have our operations people on standby. And we're working with American Airlines to assist them in any way that they need right now to try to deal with this event.

NGUYEN: Has this affected air traffic at all out of Miami International Airport?

FAJARDO: At this point, I believe there's just some minor delays in approaches, but that's about it.

NGUYEN: OK. And you're expecting -- we've been told this for, I don't know, twice now -- that it's going to be in the next 10 minutes. Are you pretty solid about that?

FAJARDO: Yes. As a matter of fact, I just got our notification right before you got on the phone that basically it's due here in about 10 minutes.

NGUYEN: All right. And, at this point, it is just circling the airport, trying to burn enough fuel to come in for a safe landing. And at this hour, we are being told that it is a nose gear problem -- more specifically, perhaps, dealing with the door of that nose gear.

Max Fajardo with the Miami International Airport, the deputy director there. Max, thanks for the information that you were able to provide us today.

FAJARDO: Yes. Thank you very much.

LEMON: And, Betty, we've been hearing 10 minutes for the past 20 minutes...

NGUYEN: Exactly.

LEMON: So we're not...


LEMON: We're exactly sure. NGUYEN: Well, he says he's pretty solid about it this time.

LEMON: Ten minutes. OK. Ten minutes from now, which is 3:33 Eastern time. Hopefully, we will get to see that plane come in and that it lands safely. Obviously, with all of this, any time you have anything that has to deal with airports, air safety, airplanes and what have you, the National Transportation Safety Board is involved with that.

Joining us on the phone is Bob Francis, former NTSB. He's joining us now.

Talk to us about what's going on and what we're looking at here, Mr. Francis.

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER VICE-CHAIRMAN, NTSB: Well, obviously, the crash fire rescue people are getting prepared. They've figured out which runway they're going to be on. One of the things -- somebody was mentioning the time and 10 minutes -- and it continues to go on.

I'd just say that there is no particular time pressure on anybody at this point, as long as they've got fuel. And so you want to make sure that crash fire rescue is ready, that -- that medical people are ready and, most of all, that the pilot and crew are ready. So...

LEMON: All right, I want to ask you this, Mr. Francis. I mean, in all honesty, we've been hearing from everyone -- our experts here at CNN, the ones we've been getting on the phone, saying you know what, this happens all the time so not to overplay this. How big a deal is this, especially when it comes to this plane making a safe landing here?

FRANCIS: Well, I'd say that it's a moderate deal. It happens all the time -- it depends on how you define. You certainly don't see a situation all the time where somebody can't deploy their nose gear. I mean it does happen and gear problems happen, you know, once in a while.

LEMON: What we're hearing, though, is that there -- the light is going off and that there's a problem with the nose gear, possibly the door is what we're hearing. At first, it was just a light.

FRANCIS: Well, but the gear appears to be down...

LEMON: Right.

FRANCIS: ... on your coverage here.

LEMON: Yes. And this is -- just so you know this isn't live. This is from earlier, the plane that we believe to be that plane that's coming in with the nose gear down. And, of course, if it was trying to attempt a landing there, of course, the nose gear and the landing gear would be down and then after it gets out of range here.

So we don't know for sure if the landing gear is, you know, indeed, in place, stuck there or if they just didn't put it up, as they were attempting to come -- to go back up into the air. But what we're waiting for, Mr. Francis...

FRANCIS: I don't think they would...

LEMON: ... is for them to...

FRANCIS: ... I don't think they would recycle it.


FRANCIS: I mean once it's down, if they -- it sounds -- if this, in fact, is the aircraft...

LEMON: Right.

FRANCIS: ... clearly, the nose gear is down.

LEMON: Right.

FRANCIS: And then the issue with the warning light is whether it's locked or not.

LEMON: Good. Good piece of information.

FRANCIS: Now, that's...

LEMON: So they wouldn't recycle it.

FRANCIS: ... that is the less -- that is a more common problem than not being able to get the gear down at all.

LEMON: I stepped on you there. Say that again.

FRANCIS: I would say that if the gear is visible to them when they fly by the tower, if the nose gear is down, the question then becomes whether it's locked or not.


FRANCIS: And you can get a malfunction -- basically, you have three lights in the cockpit. And the crew puts the gear down. The pilot flying says, "Gear down, flaps, blah, blah." And the gear goes down. And then they will look and they will see -- there will be three green lights.

So -- and then there's a -- then there's an exchange, where they say three green, indicating that the gear is down and locked. Now if you have you have the gear go down and there are only two greens and one red, then that's where you -- that's this kind of a situation.

LEMON: And I think it's important that you said -- you said and if it did come down, they wouldn't recycle it even if they could. They would just leave it down even to burn off this fuel.

FRANCIS: I would -- and I'm -- you know, I don't know their procedures. But I would say that if the gear were down, they would probably leave it down. Now, again, we don't know exactly all the facts. We don't know whether it's, you know, exactly what they see so.

LEMON: In this amount of time that we've been covering this, for probably just close to an hour and 45 minutes now, with this plane -- and, you know, it left at 1:56, which is Eastern time, will it have burned up enough -- off enough fuel -- I would imagine it would have -- within this time period, in order to make a safe landing?

FRANCIS: It depends on where it's going.


FRANCIS: I don't know. I mean if it was going to...

LEMON: Chicago.

FRANCIS: If it was going to Orlando -- well, that's -- Chicago is a fair amount of fuel in an MD-80. So it would take them a while.

LEMON: Very good information that we've gotten from Bob Francis, former vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Betty, he's saying.

By the way, sir, thank you. Can you stick around -- hang around with us in case we need you?

FRANCIS: Sure. Do you want me to stay on the line?

LEMON: Yes, our producers will direct you as soon as you get -- as soon as they -- we finish up here. So thank you very much and they'll talk to you.

And, Betty, as he was saying, good information. He talked about the lights, what it might show inside the cockpit. If the gear, in fact, wasn't down and then they put it down, then they would not recycle it...

NGUYEN: Right.

LEMON: ... because they don't want the chance that it may not come back down again. So it was very interesting information that he gave us there.

NGUYEN: Well, let's get a little more information from our Miles O'Brien, who has been watching this. Miles is a pilot himself. As we've been looking at that video of Flight 862 attempting its first landing and then deciding to pull back up into the air and burn some fuel off, that shot, where you can see the landing gear down -- the nose gear.

Does that essentially mean that it was locked or is that something that's still up for debate?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's impossible to say for sure. It certainly looked like it could be locked. But, you know, there's no way to know positively until some weight is put on it. And it is possible that -- you know, kind of the worst case scenario to the way this whole day is going to conclude for the folks on this flight would be as they land and as weight comes on that nose gear, that it collapses.

But even if that is the case -- and, of course, you know, when you find -- the crew finally comes down, you know, they'll do everything they can to slow the plane down as much at they can, hold the nose gear off as long as possible and then allow it down.

If it did, in fact, collapse, that's not going to be -- you know, there is going to be, obviously, some repair work that has to be done to that airplane. But everybody is going to walk away with just a story to tell here.

So it's difficult to say for certain. I think probably the most likely scenario in this whole problem that we're seeing here is that that landing gear never retracted in any way, shape or form. And that is where the crew became concerned that they had something that was malfunctioning that caused them to have some -- lose some confidence in that nose gear if it didn't command into the retracted position when they asked it to do so.

And so very likely it just didn't simply go up, it's still down and locked and when they land, it's going to be a routine landing. That's the likely scenario right now. And even the worst case scenario is not a bad scenario, when you look at it.

I mean you recall back in September of '05, remember -- I don't know if you recall that JetBlue Airbus that landed at Los Angeles with that nose gear that was partially deployed and actually the wheel itself was perpendicular to the flight path.


O'BRIEN: And I don't know if you remember that one, but there was a -- it caused quite a bit of spark and smoke and flame and so forth. But at the end of the day, the pilot and crew managed to keep it on that center line of the airplane. And I think that we're looking at right now a live picture of that airplane. And I was just talking to my airline captain, John Regas, a moment ago. He said, you know, look at the fact that the light is on on that nose gear.

LEMON: Hey, Miles, real quickly, is this the type of airplane -- or do we know for sure?


NGUYEN: You can see the nose gear down on this airplane. Is that what leads you to believe that this, indeed, is Flight 862, Miles?

O'BRIEN: I think this is the airplane right now. I think we're actually seeing it come in right now. And I think --

NGUYEN: Yes. We haven't been told officially, but it does appear, if you look at that nose gear. LEMON: Is there any way we can listen to the traffic on the radio here to double check that, Miles, and the guys in the control room...

O'BRIEN: Well, I can tell you...

LEMON: ... and then --

O'BRIEN: I can tell you right now, he's not going to be doing a lot of talking on the radio as he brings this down. You know, once he gets cleared to land -- which he probably already has been. I'm not exactly sure how close he is to the runway.

NGUYEN: It looks like he's attempting to land right now.

LEMON: Yes. Hang on. Let's listen to this and see what happens, guys.


LEMON: OK. Well, we'll just -- we'll listen to -- let's just see what happens here before, and then we can continue to talk. Obviously, this is making the landing. And if people are watching this, it's probably better that we don't talk over it. So hang on a second, Miles and Betty, and then we'll get back to it.


NGUYEN: It looks like this plane is about to land. Make sure that nose gear safely reaches the runway. Obviously, the pilot is being very, very cautious here.

LEMON: Very cautious not to go onto that front landing gear and use the rear landing gear, Betty.

NGUYEN: And there you have it.

LEMON: Yes. There we go -- Miles, go ahead.

NGUYEN: It looks like we have a landing, Miles.

O'BRIEN: I think he did just fine there. That was -- you notice how he held it off and held it off and then held it off a little more. That was -- that was a beautiful, beautiful job, by the way, a textbook job on precisely what you want to do when you don't have confidence in that nose gear.

As it turns out, what we sort of had come to the conclusion, as were troubleshooting this ourselves from far away, that landing gear was down and locked all along. And probably what caused the concern initially was the fact that it would not retract. And that is why that crew and we all went through this experience -- and then, of course, 133 passengers have quite a story to tell, as well. They're a long way from Chicago, but I'm sure they're very glad to be safe and sound on terra firma. LEMON: Well, (INAUDIBLE) listen real quickly, Miles. I'm getting -- and you can talk about this -- I'm getting from a source here saying they were not -- and this is someone who works in the airline industry -- they were not attempting to land the first time. They called that a flyby so the tower can visually check whether the gear is down. You want to talk about that?

NGUYEN: I think we've lost Miles.

LEMON: Miles?

NGUYEN: But this is another shot of the plane as it was coming in for a landing. And as Miles was saying, it seems pretty textbook, as the pilot was really trying to stay off of that front nose gear, because he wasn't, indeed, sure if that thing was locked into place. But, man, what maneuvering this pilot really was able to do under a condition that, nonetheless, was very stressful...

LEMON: It was.

NGUYEN: ... after circling for over an hour-and-a-half.

LEMON: Let's talk to John Wiley.

John Wiley is a pilot and he joins us now -- John.


LEMON: On the front wheel we see that -- explain to us what's going on, what we're seeing on the front landing gear of this plane.

WILEY: Yes, the nose gear the MD-80 has been in service for a long time. American was -- if they're not still -- one of the largest operators of the MD-80 in the world. So they have a tremendous amount of experience in it.

I flew the airplane for about two years. It's like a baseball bat -- it just doesn't break. It just -- it's a nice simple airplane to fly and this guy is, as Miles said, did a textbook job. I mean he put it down right on exactly the center line. So great job by the guys.

They'll -- now they'll -- what they'll do is they'll go out, they will put pins in the main and the nose gear to make sure that they remain locked. And, at that point in time, they may have him taxi to the gate or they may deplane the passengers and then tow the airplane to the gate to find out what the problem really was.

NGUYEN: Well, John, you say that you have flown this plane before. And as were looking at that landing -- both you and Miles called it textbook -- how difficult is that to really rely on the rear landing gear just in case that front nose gear is not locked into place?

WILEY: Well, you always touch down on the main gear, if you do it right. In fact, the one thing you don't want to do is you don't want touch down on the nose gear first, because it's not stressed for that. The main gear always absorbs the weight and the shock.

And, of course, you're descending at what you hope is going to be a gentle landing. But it has to absorb the weight of the aircraft times about 1.2 or 1.3 on a hard landing. And -- so it's a good deal. He did a nice job and he'll be talking about it a little bit later on.


LEMON: Hey, John, you know what we saw? It looks like he was really relying on the rear gear a little bit more. But, also, I want to talk to you about this, since you're an -- a former Airbus pilot. I'm hearing that it was not an attempt to land, that first one we saw, where we were classifying it as an attempted landing. They were doing what they call a flyby...

WILEY: Sure.

LEMON: ... so the tower can visually check whether the gear is down. And that, for the most part, they expected a really completely uneventful landing in all of this.

WILEY: Somebody would have had binoculars on the nose gear. And one of the things that we've seen in the previous Airbus incidents is -- for a reason that Airbus has addressed -- sometimes the nose gear would cock 90 degrees perpendicular to the airplane. And you can see on your shot there that the nose gear is trailing. I mean it's in the correct position.

And for one reason or another, there are a series of locks that have to be overridden for the nose gear to come up and also for main gear to come up. It's a safety feature. And if those switches and those locks are not met, then the gear won't come up. The gear not coming up is a significantly less problem than the gear not coming down.

LEMON: John, let me ask you this...


LEMON: ... because, you know, we've all been on the flights that were bumpy, right?


LEMON: And the landing is little shaky when it's windy and, you know, you can hear the passengers applaud when you land.


LEMON: You can hear that in the cockpit, can't you? That -- do you think it was going on at this point?

WILEY: Yes, I'm sure. And the fact that he held the nose in the air -- what he really wanted to do was he wanted to dissipate as much speed as he could. That's referred to as aerodynamic braking. And then, of course, he's got those big reversers on the back that you saw open up, which are standard on just about all landings for those aircraft that are equipped with reversers.

But he wanted to really have the airplane as slow as possible and then basically fly the nose gear on gently, which he did. And as Miles noted, and as you can see in your picture there, he's sitting perfectly astride the center line of the runway. Good job, captain.



LEMON: And you would know, a former Airbus pilot there, John Wiley.

Hey, John, we appreciate your expertise, OK?

WILEY: Have a good day.

LEMON: Yes, you have a good day.

WILEY: It had a good ending.

LEMON: Yes, it had a good ending.

So thank you to all of our folks there, Miles O'Brien, Chad Myers, as well, and the pilot that Miles had with him, and, again, John Wiley. Everyone really helped out with this story and good -- we're happy it was a safe landing -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. I mean we love having happy endings, because so much of what we have to tell is not good news. But this, indeed, was a wonderful ending to a stressful situation.

As you're watching right now, moments ago, American Airlines Flight 862 came in for a safe landing at Miami International Airport, after being diverted because of a nose gear problem. All passengers are apparently still on board. But the pilot did some really remarkable maneuvering to make sure that that nose gear would really not take the brunt of some of the stress that it could have on a normal landing, just to be absolutely sure that there was no problems with that nose gear. And it was really a remarkable thing to watch.

As we have been covering this for the past nearly two hours now, watching this plane as it's been circling around, trying to burn some fuel, and then ultimately come in for a safe and happy landing for all on board -- and, indeed, for all those who were just hoping that this would be a good ending to what has been a bit of a stressful day for that pilot.

LEMON: Yes, and to -- real quick. I know we're going to go to a break here, but is that the same plane? Is it on the move again, that we're looking at -- we're looking at live pictures?

As soon as this -- you get the shot of the plane coming down -- I just happened to see, Betty, in the preview monitor here, it looks like that same plane...

NGUYEN: Is on the move.

LEMON: ... is on the move. So not injured that much


LEMON: That it can't...

NGUYEN: Back to business now.

LEMON: ... that it can't continue to move. And that is that plane right now.

We're going to update this story, as well as see what's coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer at the top of the hour.

We're back in a moment.


LEMON: All right. It is called "The State of the Black Union" -- a free event in New Orleans focusing on education, housing, health care and on other issues of special interest to African-Americans. It happens this weekend and features a lot of prominent people. But perhaps -- perhaps the most prominent African-American of the moment, Senator Barack Obama, won't be among them. He's running for president and that's causing a lot of controversy.

CNN's Sean Callebs joins me now to tell us about the event and about that controversy that's brewing.

We've been hearing it all over talk radio and reading about it in the newspapers -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, without question. And not the least of which, perhaps, is this is an event, a ninth year now, that is sponsored, really led, spearheaded by talk show host Tavis Smiley. And Smiley is very disappointed that Barack Obama is not going to be here. Because you talk about those issues that are important to African-Americans and important people all over the country -- crime, affordable housing, quality education -- but even issues, problems, if you will, that are more glaring here in New Orleans.

Well, ahead of the weekend conference, today a lot of volunteers fanned out across New Orleans. And Smiley and a lot of supporters were at a school where 97 percent of the students qualify for the free lunch program. They were there painting, fixing up that school. It got about two feet of water in the aftermath of Katrina.

But one thing that is not lost on Smiley and so many others -- think about the convention center two-and-a-half years ago -- really, the flashpoint of everything that went wrong after Katrina. Well, that is where they're going to hold the symposium this weekend. And Smiley says he owes it to the people of New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE BLACK UNION": That this is the place where people were holding on literally for dear life. And we owe it to them -- those who survived, those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives, those -- those who didn't make it. We owe it to them. We owe it to them to raise these issues now louder than ever.


CALLEBS: And Barack Obama sent a letter to Smiley saying that he's going to be on the campaign tail, Don -- a very important weekend ahead of Texas and Ohio. He's going to be courting voters and talking about the issues that are important to members of this -- those with involved of "The State of the Black Union" -- Don.

LEMON: Yes. And to be honest with our viewers here, Sean, we had planned to spend more time with this, but because of the breaking news, we didn't get a chance to. But that is controversy, of course, Tavis Smiley admittedly getting a lot of heat from people who believe that Barack Obama should not even attend this event, that he is in the final stretch and should be focusing on the campaign trail.

Sean Callebs in New Orleans. Sean, we appreciate your reporting.

NGUYEN: The closing bell and a wrap of the action on Wall Street -- that is straight ahead.


NGUYEN: Let's give you this quick programming note. All next week, Gerri Willis brings you the latest news and advice for maintaining your financial security. You want tune in Monday through Friday at noon Eastern. Gerri will take your calls and address your money concerns.

LEMON: That's going to be very interesting. We'll be watching that. Right before us. Right before the CNN NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: How to recession-proof your life.

LEMON: If that's possible.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's true.

LEMON: And we hope it is.

The closing bell is about to ring on Wall Street.

NGUYEN: Susan Lisovicz is standing by with a final look at the trading day.

Hey there -- Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Betty and Don. And, you know, before you watch the financial security programming next week, you might want to watch the Oscars on Sunday night, right?

So everybody knows what the Oscar does for the career -- you win an Oscar, it helps your career. What about Oscar for your portfolio?