A JetBlue airliner with faulty landing gear touched down safely yesterday at Los Angeles International Airport after circling the region for three hours with its front wheels turned sideways, unable to be retracted into the plane.
The pilot landed by balancing on the back wheels, then eased onto the front tires, which caught fire and shot flames along the runway before they were torn off. The metal landing gear scraped the surface for the final few yards.
Within minutes of landing, the plane's door was opened and passengers walked down a stairway with their luggage and onto the tarmac, where buses waited.
No injuries were immediately reported among the 140 passengers and six crew members, fire officials said.
The plane landed at an auxiliary runway set apart from the main terminals. More than 100 Los Angeles firefighters and paramedics had positioned themselves near the south side of the airport in preparation for the emergency landing, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells.
"It was a very, very smooth landing. The pilot did an outstanding job," said fire Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli. "There was a big hallelujah and a lot of clapping on that aircraft."
Earlier, officials described the emergency maneuver.
"The pilot will try to land the plane and remain with the nose aloft as long as possible," said Tom Winfrey, an airport spokesman. The idea, he said, was to use the two wheels at the rear of the aircraft, and keep the front one off the ground until the plane was going so slowly that the nose wheel could touch ground safely.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, said NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm.
JetBlue flight 292 left Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3:17 p.m. for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin. The Airbus A320 first circled the Long Beach Airport, 30 miles south of Burbank, then was cleared to land at Los Angeles International Airport. It stayed aloft to burn off fuel and lighten its weight, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Donn Walker.
The plane landed at 6:19 p.m. Some passengers shook hands with emergency workers as they walked off the plane. Others talked on their cell phones and waved to cameras. One firefighter carrying a boy across the tarmac put his helmet on the child's head.
JetBlue, based in Forest Hills, N.Y., is a five-year-old low-fare airline with 286 flights a day and destinations in 13 states and the Caribbean. It operates a fleet of 81 A320s.
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