October 19, 2006

Local Couple Escapes Plane’s Emergency Landing Unscathed

A scheduled one hour layover at Denver International Airport turned into much more than just a waste of time for a Memphis couple returning home from a trip to Salt Lake City on October 11th.

Delta Airlines Flight 1636 was preparing to land at the Denver airport when the pilot discovered problems with the landing gear.

Dr. Ronald Keller and his wife Blanche were among the 146 passengers on the flight.

“The pilot announced that there was a problem with the front landing gear,” Dr. Keller said. “He told us that we would circle the airport and the crew would work through the checklist of possible resolutions, including rebooting the system to try to get the gear to come down.”

But after approximately 30 minutes it became apparent that the issue could not be resolved and that the plane would be forced to land without the front landing gear down.

“The pilot did an excellent job explaining the situation and keeping us calm,” said Dr. Keller. “He told us what to expect and when he finished he said he was going to leave the cockpit door open, because he wanted to be able to look back at the passengers and see the smiles on their faces after the safe landing.”

Keller said there was obvious concern amongst the passengers, but noted that people remained fairly calm throughout the process.

He pointed to his own experience as a United States Army air surgeon and the four years he spent riding on helicopters as a calming effect for himself and his wife.

“I knew that these pilots had plenty of training to handle these type of emergencies,” Dr. Keller said. “Honestly I would say I get more nervous in the emergency room when an ambulance arrives because you never know what will be coming through that door. Here all we had to do was sit back and let these guys do their job, which they did perfectly.”

When the plane finally did touch down, the pilot’s efforts kept the nose of the plane up as long as possible before it finally touched down directly on the runway. At this point sparks flew from the contact with the metal fuselage and there was smoke from the friction as well as from the rear brakes that were administered to stop the plane as quickly as possible.

“I smelled a little bit of smoke, but to be honest I didn’t even really feel the nose hit the ground,” Dr. Keller said. “This was really one of the smoother landings I’ve had on an airplane.”

Fire and emergency crews were on scene immediately to secure the plane. The flight crew checked all passengers and there were no injuries reported. Two buses took the passengers from the plane to the terminal.

In all of the excitement, the Kellers didn’t even miss their connecting flight from Denver to Kansas City.

“I couldn’t resist as we were departing the plane in Kansas City, the pilot was asking us how we enjoyed the flight,” Dr. Keller said. “I told him the landing was a little rougher than the one we had in Salt Lake City and we didn’t even have a landing gear there.”

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