... Doing nothing more than watching the cable channels do their Death Watch for Hurricane Rita. MSNBC has been one of the brighter spots lately, so that's where we were watching.
All of sudden, then broke their hurricane coverage for a Special Report. This was about Jet Blue flight 292, an Airbus A320 out of Burbank CA heading for JFK in New York.
What Is It About L.A.?
If you want live televised coverage of any sort of thing, from chasing a white Ford Bronco around the freeways, or watching an A320 with its nose landing gear turned sideways flying around, burning off the fuel.
My Hat's Off To MSNBC
Though I have a few quibbles, by and large MSNBC ended up starting and staying with this story. I flipped around CNN, Headline News, FOX News -- no one else was covering this for the longest time. Not only that, shortly after FOX News began covering the Jet Blue flight, they broke for commercials. MSNBC didn't. They kept the video of the plane orbiting L.A. nearly continuously. They also managed to keep a variety of people on the phone to talk to, without going over too endlessly about the same small set of facts. Within an hour they'd dredged up two similar incidents -- one with A320 in Columbus OH, where I believe they said the wheels straightened upon landing, and a Boeing 727, where the tires got flat spots but didn't go flat. MSNBC actually got ahold of the 727 pilot and he was a very credible commentator.
Eventually they got quite a nice shot of the landing gear -- remarkable video. Before that, the anchor kept saying the nose wheels were "turned 90 degrees", which is pretty much what a pilot or an engineer would say and I think they just parroted the phrase. Why didn't they use the term "sideways"? It would've been less confusing to the average viewer, methinks. From the start I think that would've made more sense -- and as soon as they had the freeze frame picture of the nose wheels, the anchor did use the term "sideways".
Then there's the "hero of the Iowa corn field", retired pilot Al Hayes of United flight 232, whom they had on the phone during the actual landing. I did get annoyed with the woman anchor who kept saying that flight 232 was "just like" flight 292. Captain Hayes was polite and tried to set the record straight, but she wasn't listening. (Flight 232 lost the number two engine in the tail, and in the process all hydraulic and all flight controls -- somehow the flight crew flew the DC-10 by differential thrust between the left and right engines, and almost cleanly landed the plane. I understand that no one's ever been able to duplicate this achievement on a real DC-10 flight simulator...)
And Then They Landed
If you haven't seen the landing, you should. The pilots did an excellent job of keeping the nose up for the longest time, then gently setting down on the misdirected nose gear. Traveling towards the setting sun, you could see the nose wheels slowly coming down and meeting their elongated shadow on the runway. Nice. I mean Hollywood couldn't have made a special effects shot this nice! Friction heated up the "rear" tire first, as the nose wheels were aligned slightly crooked to the runway. That tire burst into flames and burned off. The "front" tire also began to burn, but at the time the plane stopped, it fell off the rim and didn't completely burn up.
And the plane stayed on the centerline of the 11,000-foot Runway 25L the entire time. No further fire. No need to risk injury by sending everyone down the escape chutes. They brought in two sets of mobile stairs, and lined one up and let the passengers walk off with their carry-on belongings and board buses. Ordeal in the sky over safely on the ground. (Though we worried about when the passengers would ever get their checked baggage -- grin.)
Here's The Surreal Part
Jet Blue's A320s are "classless" or at least "single-class". And every seat has a small TV screen and access to some 20 or more channels via DirectTV -- including MSNBC. Turns out that not only were a couple of NBC/Universal people on the flight, the passengers were watching the continuous coverage on MSNBC up until around half-an-hour or so before the landing run. MSNBC was aware that the plane had that capability, but just assumed the pilot would order the system shut down from the start. But... just in case, as all the experts kept saying that the plane should be able to make a controlled landing, they felt obligated to reassure the passengers that they should be okay.
How weird is that? Watching your own airplane in flight during an emergency. Yikes!
For a variety of reasons of design, etc., I intensely dislike Airbus aircraft and much prefer Boeing, and have mainly flown McDonnell-Douglas in my life.
But the Jet Blue flight crew did a good job here.