Plane's nose gear collapses on landing; Southwest Airlines jet had been diverted to Oakland Airport -- no one hurt in rough touchdown

June 4, 2007
Controllers attempt to assist pilots

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that was having trouble with its landing gear made a rough emergency landing at Oakland International Airport on Sunday when its nose gear collapsed as it touched down, authorities said.

None of the 119 passengers and crew members aboard were injured in the 3:32 p.m. landing, and when the plane finally came to a stop on the runway they were all evacuated by the plane's inflatable slide, said Southwest spokeswoman Beth Harbin.

Southwest Flight 3050 departed Sacramento International Airport at 1:52 p.m. for San Diego when the pilots observed an indicator light showing a problem with the nose landing gear of the plane.

Pilots diverted the flight to Oakland and informed the passengers that there was an "issue" that needed to be checked. Meanwhile, the plane flew over San Francisco Bay as the pilots tried to get the landing gear to work properly, according to Southwest.

Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said the pilots managed to get the landing gear to go through a complete cycle of lowering and retracting into the plane. Oakland International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said the pilots then decided to have an air traffic controller in Oakland look at the gear while the plane was in the air and tell them what could be seen, she said.

Southwest officials said that before the plane made the emergency landing, they got visual confirmation from the control tower that the landing gear was indeed lowered.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles, said that at some point, the pilot told the air traffic controllers that he had three green lights -- indicating that all three of the plane's landing gear mechanisms, two under the wings and one under the nose, were working properly.

The plane then made the emergency landing on Runway 29, the main runway at the Oakland airport.

The main landing gear, under the wings, touched down without incident.

Then the nose landing gear touched down.

"When he eased the nose down, the nose gear collapsed,'' Gregor said.

Gregor said he did not know what happened next, and Southwest Airlines did not describe the landing in detail.

"It probably slid for a while," Gregor said, adding that planes are moving more than 100 mph when they land.

The plane ended up resting nose down and at an angle on the runway -- with its tail appearing to stick out over the runway edge.

It was unclear whether the landing gear retracted into the plane or broke off. Gregor said the more likely scenario is that the landing gear folded back into the plane.

"It could break off -- but that's a chance in 100,000,'' Gregor said.

An emergency slide was deployed on one side of the plane, and 114 passengers and 5 crew members were evacuated. No one was injured.

Harbin said the passengers were calm throughout the ordeal. They were taken by bus to the airport's Terminal 1, where those who wished to continue to San Diego boarded alternate flights and were on their way to San Diego by 6:20 p.m., Harbin and Barnes said.

The news media were not allowed to enter the passenger waiting room to interview the passengers, but two passengers who exited the room told KTVU they felt two big bumps upon landing. They also said they were frustrated because the airline did not tell the passengers what was happening as they circled the bay.

Gregor credited the pilot with making a safe landing under stressful circumstances.

"Given what they were dealing with, obviously the pilot did a terrific job bringing the plane down," he said.

The plane was still on the runway hours after the incident, surrounded by emergency vehicles. Oakland airport officials said they expected the main runway to be reopened by 6 a.m. today.

The main runway is 10,000 feet long.

Its closure delayed some incoming and outgoing flights at the airport, which switched to using a 6,212-foot-long runway.

Gregor said a crane is being brought from Phoenix to remove the plane from the runway.

Sharon Cabello, marketing manager for Southwest in Oakland, said only that the nose gear failed but did not give details describing the failure.

The incident is being investigated by both the FAA and Southwest. FAA records show the plane was manufactured in 1991.

Passengers flying out of Oakland International Airport this morning are advised to call their airlines for information about possible delays.

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