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Panic in cabin after someone failed to pull nose gear pin

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 7, 2011) –Passengers bound for Guam over the weekend were unhappy about the emergency landing their plane had to make.

In an interview with Variety yesterday, Woo Ram Lee, 18, said he was distressed over the situation at the airport last weekend when he and his five other Korean friends — 9, 10, 17, 21, 23 years old— were bound to Guam aboard a Fly Guam plane.

He complained about the "negligence" of the airline and the ground handling services.

Woo said their flight was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. but they didn’t get to board the plane until 8 a.m.

He said they were 30 minutes airborne and near Guam when they received an announcement that the plane was having a problem with its landing gear and had to go back to Saipan.

They were told that there would be fire trucks on the ground and that they should not panic.

He asked a flight attendant what had happened and he was told, "I don’t know."

All passengers were panic-stricken, he said, and even the flight attendants were "running all over" and screaming expletives.

He told Variety there were only seven passengers on board.

He said they were later instructed how to open the emergency door and use the life jackets.

At that point, Woo and the other passengers thought that the plane could crash any moment.

"We were all panicking," he said.

On Saipan, the Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting team was already on hand to respond to the emergency landing.

Woo said they saw fire trucks on the ground.

According to other eyewitnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity, they saw that the plane was flying on low altitude, made another turn before landing.

While the plane was making an emergency landing, all other flights were diverted to other airports.

Freedom Air manager Dennis Cruz said their plane was supposed to land on Saipan coming from Rota but was told to head to Tinian on account of an emergency landing being made by another carrier.

Fly Guam station manager Lisa Bordallo, in a statement to Variety, said, "I am aware that our flight had returned to Saipan airport, but upon investigating, there were no maintenance or emergency issues found. Flight resumed and all is well."

Variety learned that the Commonwealth Ports Authority’s ARFF received a call from the airport traffic control at 8:28 a.m.

According to the ARFF report, "An Alert I is in-progress. A Boeing 737 aircraft will be landing on runway 6 with a landing gear problem."

The report also stated that there were 15 passengers plus crew on board a plane that was carrying 14,500 pounds of fuel.

The Fly Guam plane landed on Saipan safely at 9:08 a.m.

"According to the pilot, once the aircraft was airborne, he tried to retract the landing gear but it would not retract. He requested for a flyby and visual conformation of the landing gears. When confirmation of all landing gears was visualized the aircraft was cleared to land on Runway 6," stated the report.

It added that there was no problem with the aircraft but the alert was caused by the failure to remove the nose gear locking pin prior to take off.

According to sources, the pin is placed on the retracting gear while on the ground and should be removed before the plane takes off.

With the pin in place, the landing gear could not gear up. "You cannot fly the plane anywhere with gear down," sources said.

While on the ground on Saipan Woo asked if there was another available plane to take them to Guam. He was told, "Not that I know of."

He said they had no choice but to remain on the plane. They should have reached Guam by 8:10 a.m. but they got there at 11:45 a.m.

When they landed, they still couldn’t get off the plane as they were told they had to fill out some forms. So they waited for the forms.

While waiting, a flight attendant told them they could leave. "When we got off, [we found out] half of the stewardesses had already gone out but we were still on the plane," Woo said.

[PIR editor’s note: In related news, Continental Airlines has had to make a total of five "precautionary" landings on Guam in the past month.]

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