It's a White-Knuckle Ride as Passenger Jet Makes Emergency Landing at State College Airport
Exclusive Interviews: Passengers tell StateCollege.com, "We're Just Happy to be alive."
A routine flight from Cleveland to New York City turned into a terrifying aerial experience Tuesday evening. It happened aboard a Chautauqua Airlines Embraer 145, a 50-passenger jet. Chautauqua Airlines is a regional carrier that provides flights for Delta Connection.
There was some turbulence aboard as Flight 6044 flew through a stormy night, heading for LaGuardia. The aircraft was carrying 16 people, 12 passengers and 4 crew members. On the ground at University Park Airport snow plows were busy clearing runways. A slushy mix of snow and sleet had been falling since late afternoon. According to passenger accounts the pilot suddenly announced an unspecified in-flight emergency.
As the drama began to unfold, one passenger described the flight attendants as "visibly upset." A man who identified himself as "Laurence" says passengers were kept in the dark and were not told what was really happening. But some passengers reported smelling smoke. The atmosphere aboard the plane was described as tense, "really scary." Doctor Jay Sugunaraj was flying back to his home in Connecticut. Sugunaraj says many of his fellow passengers appeared worried as the plane began its descent, heading for an emergency landing at University Park Airport. It would be a tense 15 minutes until the plane reached the runway.
Back on the ground, a Level 3 emergency was declared, which means emergency responders were called in from State College, Bellefonte, Penn State and the Mount Nittany Medical Center. Fire trucks and ambulances lined the tarmac as Flight 6044 touched down without incident. The aircraft was quickly surrounded by emergency vehicles, flashing red and blue lights swirling through the snow. The plane sat on the runway for about an hour while emergency workers evaluated the situation. No fire was reported. According to University Park Airport Director, Bryan Rodgers, passengers were evacuated and taken inside the airport terminal. Rodgers says there are no reports of injuries. Inside the terminal a group of very relieved-looking passengers waited to learn what the airline planned to do with them. Some passengers were hoping to be taken to a hotel. As of 10 p.m. there was no word on how they were getting home. Sugunaraj, the passenger from Connecticut, looked tired as he said, "We're just happy to be alive."
The airplane was towed to a holding area. Rodgers confirmed that the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit but it's unclear what caused the problem. Asked about the bad weather, Rodgers said the storm did not appear to be a factor in the incident. A call to Delta Airline's Corporate Communications office was not returned.