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Plane With Landing Gear Problems Lands Safely at Van Nuys Airport

Aired August 28, 2001 - 15:40   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Natalie Allen in the CNN center in Atlanta. We are showing you live pictures from Van Nuys, California. A small aircraft is about to make an emergency landing. The landing gear is deployed, but it's not locked down. We don't know when a landing might be tried. We're going to listen into the tower, we're getting audio in from the tower, which is talking to the pilot right now. No word on who's -- how many people are on board, how long they've had this problem, but let's listen in and try to figure it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, thank you. Got it.

ALLEN: As we watch this from over the skies in Van Nuys, California, we are reminded of a similar story yesterday, which we brought you out of Fort Worth, Texas, where a single-engine Cessna 172 had to make an emergency landing with no landing gear. Aviator we talked with said that that landing should be no problem, and it wasn't for the pilots who went by the book, and it was a textbook landing for them.

There was an instructor and a student in that plane yesterday in Fort Worth. They spent time burning off some fuel, they made a good landing on concrete and got out of the plane with no problem. Let's listen in and see if we can hear from the tower again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 120.2. 120.2. 120.2.

ALLEN: We haven't gotten a wide picture from the photographer yet. Trying to figure out how high this plane is, we'll continue to listen.

Again, this is in the skies over Van Nuys, California. A small aircraft, as you can see the wheels are down, the forward and rear wheels are down. The word from the pilot is that there can't be lockdown so that apparently is the problem. Discussions are ongoing with the tower, as you can hear.

We don't know how long this plane has been airborne or when this problem was detected, but apparently some sort of an emergency landing may have to take place if the pilot can't get the landing gear locked down.

And we will wait to see if he can hear some instructions from the tower. Just the few minutes you've been watching this, it seems the plane continues to make a turn, to indicate he's circling perhaps near an airfield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right, strip it back out, just south of the quarter ranch area, again back to his area that he was circling before, five miles northwest of Van Nuys Airport. He's burning off fuel prior to landing here. Apparently, he took off with about three hours of fuel. Actually, his first approach, he had about three hours of fuel on board. He was advised by the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operator from which this aircraft was -- had departed at Van Nuys Airport to go ahead and burn off about another hour of fuel -- make that about 45 minutes of fuel.

He is doing just that, he had been attempting to cycle the gear, gone through the emergency procedures, again with the help of some of the maintenance crews on the ground. They told him just moments ago do not try and cycle that gear any longer, it's in the down position right now, but again, he does not have a good indication that they are down and locked. So, he is going to continue circling as you can see here, with the gear down, until he burns off a little bit more fuel.

The last indication was that we got was that he was going to be out here about another 25 minutes, so we're going to keep an eye on it to make sure that he stays out here that long, and if he tries to come back inbound a little bit more -- a little bit sooner than that, we're going to be on top of it and give you the pictures as soon as they come in.

So again, that twin engine beechcraft, as you said, circling about five miles northwest of the Van Nuys Airport. He does not have a good indication that his landing gear is in the down position, however it does appear to be down. He is going to burn off fuel, we are going to stay on top of it.

This is Derek Bell (ph) in Sky 9, back to you in the studio.

ALLEN: All right, this is Natalie Allen back in the CNN center. We've been hearing our local affiliate give us the latest. This is a twin engine beechcraft aircraft. As we just heard, this airplane is expected to stay up in the air a good while to burn off fuel before attempting to make a landing.

Do we have John King with us?


ALLEN: Hi there, John. We talked with John yesterday during another landing without landing gear in Texas, you are a pilot, so you know these things. It sounds like, John, that this landing gear may indeed be locked, but this pilot doesn't have an indication of that.

JOHN KING, AVIATION EXPERT: Well, that's not uncommon. Sometimes the lights don't work properly, and if that's the case, you assume that it's not down, because otherwise you would be pretty embarrassed if it were -- if you thought it were down, and it were not. So, you just assume it's not down and go through all the precautions.

ALLEN: So, today we are watching a twin engine beechcraft. Yesterday it was a single engine Cessna 172. Any major differences in these aircrafts as far as the danger and bringing this one down without landing gear?

KING: Well, a beechcraft lands a little bit faster than the 172, but not much. They both down to pretty slow speed, and once again it is going to be more of an embarrassment to the pilot and more of a financial issue rather than a real risk injury to anybody on board the aircraft.

ALLEN: We heard also this pilot will continue to fly for -- well, was going to fly 45 minutes to an hour. We don't know when this started, to try to burn off fuel. That's a key, a nice safety measure to do, even though this is considered a landing that this pilot could make safely?

KING: Well, there's an emergency landing gear extension procedure, and one of the things you would be doing at this time as a pilot is going out and going through the manual extension procedure, and then going through the check list, and it's just giving you a check list of the things you should do for a landing that's abnormal like this.

So, they will have the book out in front of them, and they will be looking at it, and going through the check list and making sure that everything is prepared, and it will turn out to an exciting, spectacular landing in which no one gets hurt.

ALLEN: Well, you were right about that yesterday, and we certainly hope you are right about it today. What we've been trying to pick up conversations between the pilot and the tower, they are just letting each other know what's going on. I've just been told, John, that this pilot has been cleared to land, so we should be able to watch this happen here in a few moments.

KING: Well, the pilot has probably at this point already gone through the check list of things that he needs to be prepared for for this landing, and now it's just a case of doing the things that the check list says to do, and then getting away from the airplane as a precaution after they land.

ALLEN: So, as we watch it come down, again this is happening in Van Nuys, California. We'll listen in, try to see if we can pick up any conversations between the plane and the tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OK. OK. I copy that. I copy that. I will keep it airborne. Climbing up quite a bit (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We will get it back here in a second.

ALLEN: Again, if you are just joining us, we're watching a small plane, a beechcraft aircraft near Van Nuys, California. We expect it's about to make a landing without knowing whether its landing gear is locked into place. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The light is not green, that means that the gear may not be in the down and locked position. From our vantage point, it does appear that he has three of his landing gear down, all three are down. However, he's not getting an indication that it is locked.

And what he's been doing is he's burning off fuel about five miles northwest of the Van Nuys Airport. He's been told by his ground personnel that you should land with about two hours or less of fuel on board. That was about half an hour ago that had three hours of fuel, so he's got to be up for a little bit. That is the current plan right now.

He was -- we saw him earlier trying to make some high-G maneuvers, some steep banks, some dives and then pulling the nose up, trying the put some weight on that landing gear to see if it will go down in a locked position or he will get an indication of a lock position. However, that was to no avail.

He's been told by his ground personnel not to cycle the gear any longer. If he's having a problem they don't want to exacerbate it. But again, he is circling at about 2,500 feet above sea level, about 5 nautical miles northwest of Van Nuys Airport. He's monitoring the tower and both his ground personnel. We expect at some point here, probably within the next 20 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes, he will start making his turn inbound. From that time, what they're going to do is have him do the low flyby. They're going to take one more look at that gear, just to confirm that it is either down or unlocked, if they can possibly see that. If they can continue -- if they can give him any more information, they will.

Once he feels comfortable enough, he is going to attempt to land it. He's going to land it on the 1-6 right. That is the long runway at Van Nuys Airport. It's a southerly-oriented runway. He's got about 8,000 feet of usable runway, it's about 150 feet wide -- plenty enough for him to make a safe landing, even if he does have some gear trouble. However, we expect that an incident like this, what we're hoping for, is that that gear in fact is down and locked. However, the indication that he's getting is the normally.

Many times, the micro switch that operates the gear indication doesn't get engaged when in fact the gear lock mechanism does get engaged, so he will get a false reading that the gear is either in transit or not completely locked down, when in fact, it is. So that's what we're hoping for.

We've got a good shot of the aircraft as it turns towards us right there. All three gear appear to be down. The ones that he was worried about most are the main gears. Those are underneath the wings right there as you can see. It does appear that they are down. It's impossible for us to tell, however, if it is in fact completely locked. And again, impossible for him to tell whether it's down and completely locked, unless he has that green gear indicator, which apparently he does not have. It is showing that it is in transit, not completely down. And so he's going to hope for the best, he's going to continue to burn off the fuel, then he'll make that turn inbound. He's been getting, again, much -- lots of advice from both the operator of the aircraft and the air maintenance crews on the ground there at Van Nuys Airport. They've been going through the emergency backward and forward, checking circuit breakers, valve positions and such, doing whatever they possibly can to get that main gear green indication going on, but apparently that is to no avail at this time.

Again, he's not going to try and cycle that gear any longer as we saw him do previously. He's going to keep it in the down position. That gives the aircraft a lot of drag. He can burn fuel a little bit more quickly with that gear in the down position, try and get it down below two hours of fuel.

Now, as many people may be aware, the wings of these general aviation aircraft are the fuel tanks, so if you can imagine if he lands on the belly of this aircraft with the gear either partially down or completely retracted, or if the gear does collapse on the runway, the tarmac will strike very close to the fuel cell, so that is the big problem at this time.

Stand by one moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Derek (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fantastic. Go right ahead. If you can give me the cue, that'd be great, over the cell phone. OK. OK. You're breaking up. Can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, this is Derek (ph). You're coming in very broken up on the cell phone. I don't know if this is going to work on the cue, but if you like, I'm up and hot and I just can start talking whenever you want.

ALLEN: We're going to interrupt KCAL, which is bringing us a good indication of what's going on with this airplane that we expect is going to come down and make a low pass to try to get folks on the ground to do a quick study of the landing gear. I have with me, I'm happy to say, Miles O'Brien, our space correspondent and our resident pilot here at CNN. And...

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can think of me as your copilot, if you like.

ALLEN: I will indeed do that.

First of all, Miles, we talked about this yesterday. We had a Cessna yesterday over Fort Worth doing the same thing, and you're saying that this happens a lot, and it happens with success.

O'BRIEN: It happens. I didn't know the numbers, John King might actually have some numbers for you, but this is in the realm of routine emergency -- there's an oxymoron for you. But if there is a routine emergency, this might be it. Let me just tell you, obviously, you've got three tires showing there. That's good news, right? Well, the problem is there are three little lights on that instrument panel in there, green lights, and if the pilot doesn't see three greens, he doesn't know for sure if that wheel is down and locked.

So one of the ways that they go about the process of trying to lock these things, get that light to go on, is they fly a series of S turns. You notice he's been doing a lot of steep banking maneuvers -- he's in a turn right now -- and what that is doing is it's putting air stream force in various directions on the landing gear outwards, and that outward force, in theory, could cause the landing gear to lock up, he could get that green light and feel very comfortable about coming in for a landing.

Now, there is one other option here of course. It could be he just has a light bulb that's gone out and there's no way of knowing that for sure, unfortunately, until you actually kiss the pavement and hope it's a nice, gentle thing. One of the things they do is as they go overhead, they look at those struts, make sure everything looks like it's perpendicular and just the way it should look when the landing gear goes down. Unfortunately, if the light is out, once again, there's no positive way to determine if it is in fact locked.

Now, there's a whole checklist that they go through, here, whenever this occurs, where you hand-crank things down, cause the thing to be put into the locked position without the use of the electric motor, still using the hydraulic system, but essentially hand-cranking through that hydraulic system to get this landing gear down.

But basically what that looks like is a plane that's ready to land. Unfortunately, the pilot is getting an indication that's telling him it's not. What's wrong? Is it that light or is it the landing gear? That remains to be seen.

ALLEN: All right, we'll talk more in a moment. Right now we're going to talk, Miles, with Jim Wells at the L.A. Fire Department.

Mr. Wells, what are you prepared for and how are you prepared for this landing today?

JIM WELLS, L.A. FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, right now I was listening to Miles O'Brien explain that very well. As far as the Los Angeles Fire Department is concerned, we are on the scene there with our crash units and our foam units, and firefighters are preparing for this aircraft to land. Right now as this aircraft burns off its fuel, when it makes the attempt to land, if the landing gear is not locked properly and they do collapse and a fire starts, we will have our units on the scene immediately to extinguish this fire. The pilot is burning off his fuel to lessen the chance of some type of ignition of the fuel when he lands.

As Miles was saying, very seldom do we have any major problems when these aircraft land with the indication that their landing gear may not be locked. But once again, we do not foam the runway for these aircraft to come and land, but when the aircraft starts their landing pattern and come in, the fire trucks and the foam rigs and crash rigs will follow this aircraft to a stop, and if a fire should ignite the firefighters are ready to douse that blaze immediately and rescue the occupants inside.

ALLEN: Thank you. And why isn't foam used for the landing?

WELLS: Well, this will smother the fire, prevent the fumes from escaping and actually smother the fire completely out, prevent it from reigniting. And it gives us a path to get in and get the occupants out of the aircraft.

ALLEN: But foam is not put down before this plane lands, that's correct?

WELLS: No, not in the Los Angeles area, no. We do not prefoam the runways prior to the landings.

ALLEN: Have you seen a lot of these yourself, sir, that successfully...

WELLS: Not necessarily a lot of them, but as O'Brien was saying, they do happen all over the country and all over the world. Most of them do end up being successful and we would like to think that this one will be a successful landing also.

ALLEN: Do you have an approximate time when this pilot is going to try to bring this plane on in?

WELLS: We got the call around 11:50 this morning, that this aircraft was coming in, so it's been over an hour now. I would say within the next 15 to 20 minutes, this aircraft should be attempting the landing, with an indication that the possibility of the landing gear not locked.

ALLEN: Do you have any information about how many people, who is on this plane?

WELLS: Not necessarily who, but I do understand there are two people on board this aircraft that will be attempting this landing.

ALLEN: Do you have any information on where they were headed today?

WELLS: No, I don't have an origin of the plane, whether it was taking off and returning or coming from some other destination. But like I say once again, the Los Angeles Fire Department is prepared to handle this emergency if one should occur.

ALLEN: All right, so you're in place and ready to go when this landing happens.

WELLS: Yes, we are.

ALLEN: We thank you for talking with us, Jim Wells.

WELLS: You are welcome.

ALLEN: Let's switch, I'm told, to Hanjo Kell, the chopper pilot for our L.A. affiliate. Is it KTLA?

Are you there, Han?


ALLEN: Tell us how long this has been going on and what you have been observing with the plane?

KELL: You're looking at a live picture over Northridge, and this feature -- I think it's a Duchess twin-engine airplane -- has been orbiting about an hour now. The world we got from the airport tower was they are burning fuel, what you heard earlier, and that just in case there should be a hard landing, there was less danger of a fire erupting on impact. Depending how the outcome will be, they have a bad gear light. This is the latest we heard.

ALLEN: Do you know, Hanjo, about the experience of the pilot, anything about the pilot -- male, female?

KELL: No information on this, I'm sorry.

ALLEN: Are you getting an indication of when this landing will happen?

KELL: Well, we estimate within the next 15 to 20 minutes. We are talking to the tower. The tower is letting us know when he will be inbound to make his landing attempt, and we will keep you updated.

ALLEN: What's the weather like there today?

KELL: You can see it's nice and clear, some haze burning off from early morning still. But visibility is about 10 miles, and the skies are clear.

ALLEN: Are you allowed -- you are a helicopter pilot for a local TV station out of Los Angles -- to stay up in the air the whole time, and how close are you to this airplane?

KELL: Yes, we are. We are told by the tower we can maintain 2,000 feet over the Northridge area, which is nice because we have traffic going into Burbank over us, and we're working that out with the controller on the ground.

ALLEN: Yesterday -- you may not know about this -- but we also aired live coverage of a Cessna coming into Fort Worth Airfield without landing gear, and it generated a lot of folks pulling over on the side of the road and watching to see what would happen. Are you seeing that down below, is this generating much interest?

KELL: It's a very residential area. It's really hard to tell. Looking down right now, I don't see any traffic stopped on the surface streets.

ALLEN: What kind of airfield will this airplane be landing on, and is this the same place it took off?

KELL: It is actually the number one or number two busiest general aviation airport in the United States, Van Nuys Airport, which is about 25 to 30 miles north of Los Angeles International Airport.

ALLEN: We thank you so much, Hanjo Kell, with our affiliate KTLA. We hope to talk with you again as this continues on here.

If you're just joining us, we are watching a small aircraft, which will attempt to make a landing soon, probably in the next 15 minutes, from everyone's information we are getting, without knowing whether its landing gear is locked down

Miles O'Brien is with us. He's also a pilot. He's on our team of correspondents and anchors here at CNN.

We're getting the closest view we've had of the landing gear -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: A couple things I want to point out to you, Natalie, as we look at this pass here. It looks like that nose wheel is not at the right angle. I'm trying to find out now whether that is supposed to look like -- that nose wheel swings down this way and probably shouldn't be angled, as it is, in that direction. The main gear, these two, look like they should.

One other thing we did find out, Tom Gott (ph), one of our directors here, who has quite a bit of time on the Beechcraft Duchess, the type of aircraft you see right here, says there is a push-to-test button that allows you to determine if the light might have burned out, one of those three lights indicating whether the landing gear was down and locked. So he could push that button and could have some indication if he has a burned-out light bulb.

Looking at the picture -- and I don't know if John King, who's on the line, is able to see CNN's air right now -- the nose gear appears not to be in the down-and-locked position, just on a visual inspection.

John, can see you see CNN?

KING: No, I cannot. Can you hear me, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I can.

KING: I've got a manual showing how the landing gear works, and with the landing gear, the nose wheel extends forward, so if you are seeing it back a little bit, it's probable that that landing gear is not fully extended.

O'BRIEN: Right, it is not quite in the perpendicular position, John, and I'm guessing that that's the indication he's getting, that his nose wheel is not indicating down and locked.

KING: It should even look a little bit forward. It extends a little bit perpendicular to forward. O'BRIEN: Perpendicular to forward? Maybe that's what we have.

KING: It's a little bit beyond perpendicular.

So it should look that way, and if it doesn't -- and also the fact that, as you know, as you mentioned, you can push the test on the light. If he's not getting a light, probably that's telling you that that gear has not hit its switch to activate the light and is probably not in position.

O'BRIEN: Let's go through a quick scenario, John King. In the panoply of landing gear issues -- there's that nose gear we're talking about right there, trying to decide if that's in the right angle -- this scenario is probably, if you will, the least challenging: You have two down-and-locked main gears and potentially a nose wheel that will collapse. Am I correct in saying that this would be the scenario that, if you had to go through one of these situations, would be scenario to hope for?

KING: If you told me that I had to land with one of the landing gear not down, this would be the one I would choose. And the reason you would is the main wheels are keeping the tanks up away from the ground, and all you are going to do is slide a little bit on the nose. It might cause some propeller damage or some nose damage, but by the time the nose drops, you can hold the nose off with the elevator controls, and the airplane will be quite slow by the time the nose drops down to the ground.

So if it is indeed just the nose wheel, it's a very lucky pilot. He's certainly getting more than his share of attention today. He's got hundreds of thousands of people holding up a scorecard for his landing.

O'BRIEN: You could call it "Landing Gear Week" here at CNN, I guess, if you will, John King.

KING: We certainly could. The worst thing about this is you've caused a tremendous amount of inconvenience to other people around the airport, you've gotten way more attention than you were expecting today when you went out for this flight, and the biggest thing going on in this pilot's answer mind is he would like to do this right.

ALLEN: Which brings the question, how do you train for something like this?

KING: You do train for it. It's in the manuals, and it's the type of thing you talk about and think about. It would pretty expensive to simulate it just to make the landing, but do you have a lot of discussion about it, and the manuals do cover it. You are prepared for it. It's the kind of thing that pilots talk about a lot in their ground training.

O'BRIEN: Of course, the actual belly landing is one of those kids- don't-try-this-at-home type of events in aviation, but having seen what we saw yesterday, I think that is testament to the kind of training pilots get in this. That was a textbook example in Fort Worth, Texas, of dingo exactly what the checklist tells to you do: bringing the plane down, getting it right at that stall speed, killing the engine, shutting off the electrical, leaving the door ajar; the pilot got out, and he thought to bring his headsets even.

I would say they did that one pretty much to book. If this pilot follows the checklist, which he have before him right now, which covers all emergencies scenarios, including this, I would be willing to go out on the limb, as John did yesterday, and tell you this ends up very uneventfully, except for the fact we are all watching it on CNN.

ALLEN: We are told this pilot will have 8,000 feet of runway, 150 feet wide. Is that plenty of room for error?

O'BRIEN: I would say that is plenty of room for error, to say the least, more than 1 1/2 miles of runway.

This plane, John, would need how much to land, typically, a couple thousand feet?

No more than a couple thousand feet. On a typical landing, he would not need but a fraction of that runway.

ALLEN: We are going to go now to Stacy Geere, a spokeswoman for Van Nuys Airport.

Miss Gear, are you with us?


ALLEN: Can you tell us how many people are on this plane?

GEERE: There are two people on board the aircraft, the pilot and one passenger.

ALLEN: Can you tell us any more about the pilot?, Is it a male, a female, where they were headed, or how much experience this pilot has?

GEERE: I don't have that information. What I can tell you is what has occurred and what we are doing to prepare the landing.

ALLEN: Tell us what is going on now and when you expect this pilot to attempt to land?

GEERE: Let me provide some back information. About noon, the pilot of a twin-engine Beechcraft Duchess aircraft reported a problem with the landing gear. He conducted a flyby of the aircraft control tower, and it appeared that the gear was down. However, as a precautionary measure, the pilot is burning off fuel, and we are awaiting a landing. Preliminarily, I heard pilot could fly for another 30 minutes.

ALLEN: We heard earlier that the L.A. Fire Department is fully deployed and on standby if there is a problem with this landing today. GEERE: Yes, it is standard operating procedure when a pilot indicates that he or she is experiencing a problem, that we do have operations personnel, as well fire and police personnel, that report to the scene and are prepared to handle any emergency that might occur.

ALLEN: Do you have any information on, as far as conversations with the pilot, how they are doing in there?

GEERE: No, I don't. I know that the pilot is in constant communication with the air traffic control tower, that he is burning off fuel as a precautionary measure. And at the time that he is ready to land, the air traffic controllers will clear the air space, and will clear the pilot for a landing, and hopefully all will go well.

ALLEN: Is this airfield closed down right now?

GEERE: No, the airport is open.

ALLEN: OK. And earlier, I heard someone say that the plane -- and you mentioned, the plane had come in close enough for people on the ground to do a visual inspection. I want to reiterate, you said that those on the ground said it appeared to them that the landing gear was in the correct position and was perhaps locked down?

GEERE: That's correct, and it is not unusual for the pilot of an aircraft to request a fly-by so that air traffic controllers can take a look at the aircraft. In this case, air traffic controllers observed that the landing gear appeared to be down. It's not certain whether or not the gear is completely locked into place, and that could explain why the pilot is taking the extra precautionary measure of burning off fuel prior to attempting a landing.

ALLEN: And Stacy, what happens from here on out? How will the pilot communicate his wishes to bring it on down?

GEERE: Right. He will request of the air traffic controllers that he make a landing, the controllers will clear him to land. And then, the personnel on the airport are standing by to handle anything unusual that might occur.

ALLEN: Well, Stacy Geere, we thank you so much for talking with us, spokeswoman for the Van Nuys Airport.

And in case viewers are just joining us, this aircraft we're watching is a beechcraft Duchess 76, twin engine plane, it's going to attempt a landing at Van Nuys Airport. Van Nuys is about 25 miles from Los Angeles, it's a clear day, a good day for flying, and that's good because this plane is getting some extra flying time circling to burn off fuel before attempting to land, not knowing if its landing gear is locked into position correctly.

We have with us Miles O'Brien, we also have a aviation expert John King on the line with us to talk us through this. Both Miles and John are telling us that this does happen on some sort of regular basis out there, who knows the numbers, but it can be done with usual success.

And didn't John say, Miles, that if he had a choice which wheel wasn't locked down, it would be the one that we are suspecting, which is the front wheel?

O'BRIEN: Yes, in the grand scheme of things here, if -- of course, you prefer not to have to do this, because undoubtedly this is going to cost the owner of this plane some money, but in the grand scheme of things, losing -- if it is in fact the nose gear as we've been surmising just by looking at this video, and that's an amateur assessment at best -- but just by looking at the way that nose gear kind of is angled forward somewhat there -- I don't know if you can see that, it's kind of -- it's canted to forward, it's possible because it swings down this way, that it hasn't locked into place, and that's why he's not getting that indication.

In any case, it appears the main gear is fine, and as you can see that is -- these wings, which are loaded with fuel -- of course, he's burning fuel off, but nevertheless that's where the fuel tanks are -- and of course, the spinning propellers are there -- and while the nose going down that far might cause some damage as the propellers strike the ground, certainly the amount of damage and the risk to the pilot is limited somewhat, if in fact what we are talking about here is a nose gear that might collapse.

So, I'm sure this pilot is, you know, has -- he's paying full attention to what he's doing right now, but I don't think that this would be any cause for any sort of panic inside the cockpit, as what we are seeing right here is a pilot who has gone through his check list, continues to go through his check list, he's taking the precaution of burning off the fuel, and within short order should begin the process of coming down for a descent and perhaps a completely uneventful landing, perhaps a rather nose-forward conclusion.

ALLEN: And John King, I want to ask you, take us through as this plane eventually comes down, and just before it touches down on the runway, what will the pilot be doing to ensure that there's no fire, then get out safely just before he sets it down?

KING: Well, the biggest thing is getting ready, thinking through what you are going to do. This is for this pilot I'm sure the landing of a lifetime, he's never going to have more attention on a landing than on this one. And it's kind of like icing the kicker, the more time he spends getting ready for it, as he's doing, the more nervous he gets about it.

But the biggest thing he wants to do is touch down lightly on the main wheels, and then hold the airplane's nose wheel off the ground, and then just let that nose wheel or the nose gently touch at lowest possible speed. If you have time, it's not a big priority, but you had time, you'd make sure that you pull the fuel cut-offs to engines to make sure that you didn't have fuel going to the engines, and the propellers stop before the nose wheel touches down.

But your real concern is just doing this as gently and as carefully as possible so as to not cause injury to the people. You're really not trying to save the airplane at this point, so you don't want to get over-concerned about trying to prevent damage to the engine, but just making a nice, gentle, slow touch down, and holding the nose wheel off, bringing the airplane to a stop, keeping presence of mind, shutting off the electrical systems and getting out of the airplane is what it's all about.

You know, there's no emergency that's so serious that you can't make it worse by rushing, so this is something the pilot wants to do very slowly and very deliberately and very calmly, and he will do a better job that way.

O'BRIEN: John King, you of course being from San Diego, I'm sure have come in and out of Van Nuys upon occasion. Is this as good an airport as any for this sort of thing to occur?

KING: I can't think of a better airport. They have wonderful fire protection service there, they have a very, very long and wide runway. He's going to be close to hospitals, should something happen. I couldn't think of a better place to do this.

O'BRIEN: And not a better day, I suppose.

KING: Right.

O'BRIEN: ... in Southern California.

KING: Just as soon, you know, it's one of those things that if it weren't for the honor, you'd just as soon pass.

O'BRIEN: Now, just to give you an idea of what's in store here, the approach speed of beechcraft Duchess would be about 70 knots -- 70 knots, right?

KING: Should touch down around 55 knots, translates roughly to about 60 miles an hour.

O'BRIEN: OK. And the stall speed I hear -- I see right here is about that, 58 knots, based on the information from our director Tom Gott (ph), who has quite a bit of time in the beechcraft Duchess.

KING: And I'm assuming the airplane isn't completely up to maximum gross weight, so it might touch down even a little slower than that.

O'BRIEN: So, in the grand scheme of things, that's going to be a fairly short roll down that 8,000-foot runway. Typically, this airplane would need -- what -- less than 2,000 feet to get in and out?

KING: You know, normally when something like this happens, and the pilot will be preparing for it, preparing for it, getting all geared up, and when he gets done, he's going to say, "well, what was that all about?"

ALLEN: John, have you ever had to land without landing gear before?

KING: I made a precautionary landing one time in a corn field, knowing I was going to damage the airplane in advance, but I've never landed gear up. Most pilots would very dearly like to avoid that happen to them -- avoid having it happen to them.

So, no, I've never done that, but I did make a landing one time in which I knew in advance I was going to damage the aircraft under the circumstances, and I can tell you that it's very disconcerting to the pilot to do that.

ALLEN: It's amazing to me, being someone who doesn't fly airplanes, to listen to the two of you talk about the focus here is not damage to the aircraft, because it seems like something that would be a little more frightening, but as you keep pointing out this is something that you train for, and that this pilot should be able to carry this out rather methodically.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's a certain amount of focus and I've heard John tell that story in some greater detail on occasions, and there's a certain amount of focus that comes with an event like this. And on the one hand, while he says, you know, as the time goes on, and the orbits continue, and the fuel is draining, and there's not much else to do, there might be this level of panic. Adrenalin is also a very powerful thing for allowing you to do the right thing when you need to -- right, John?

KING: Yes, absolutely. You know, pilots who have gone through these kinds of things says the time almost stops for them, they just go very, very slowly, and they see things in slow motion.

O'BRIEN: Did you remember seeing that when you had that incident?

KING: Yeah, absolutely, I did. It seemed to take forever, and somehow your ability to handle this speeds up, and it goes very -- things just move very slowly for you, and all this preparation -- this pilot is really going to be over-prepared for this landing, it's going to turn into a deal where we all say, "wow, that's all there was to that."

ALLEN: Well, we hope we will say that about this. And we should be coming up fairly soon here on the time when we think that this pilot should try to land. Yesterday, in case viewers were not with us yesterday, we covered a similar story out of Fort Worth, Texas, a Cessna coming in with no landing gear, and John, you said then that -- in fact, we are showing that to you yesterday, you can see this Cessna has no landing gear.

O'BRIEN: For those of you who thought this plane miraculously changed configuration, this is the 172 from yesterday.

ALLEN: This is from yesterday, and you can see how the pilot made that look pretty easy, walked out in a matter of seconds. Go ahead, John.

KING: The biggest risk in a situation like this is that pilots tend to do extraordinary things to kind of save the situation. There have been cases where they have had another airplane get up, or another aircraft go up to check to see if the gear was down, they have a mid-air collision because of it. Or the pilot does try to get extremely low on fuel and runs out of fuel before they get to the airport, or the pilot ties to take extraordinary measures to completely prevent damage to the aircraft, and therefore gets distracted in the process.

ALLEN: And you were also saying yesterday, John, we asking you about landing on concrete as opposed to a grassy area adjoining the runway and you said the concrete was better.

KING: Well, it is a regular, smooth surface. We think of it as being hard, but it is prepared for this. And a grassy surface would not be. So you are much better off to choose this surface. But the biggest thing that everybody would urge this pilot not to do, is do anything extraordinary. Just slowdown and go by the book, and do a very calm, orderly, workman-like job of it and that's what you are going to see, I am sure today.

O'BRIEN: Think of it as a normal landing, if you will.

KING: Really, yes, and don't do anything extraordinary.

ALLEN: Well, the pilots yesterday said, yes, they were scared but they went by the book and that was the bottom line and that's all they tried to concentrate on. And they did a good job of it.

O'BRIEN: I don't see any indication here, Natalie, that he is ready to make his approach. He is still doing a lot of banking turns, and I don't see any indication that he has put his flaps down, which would be an indication he's coming in on final approach to landing.

The flaps are the control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing that change the aerodynamics such that it allows the plane to fly safely slower, something that is done before every landing, whether you are on a commercial airplane or a small twin engine, like the Beechcraft Duchess. So it is hard for me assess how soon this is going to occur. I have a feeling he's still burning off quite a bit of fuel. The range on the Beechcraft Duchess -- I don't know it off the top of my head -- but if he took off with full tanks this orbiting to drain his tanks could go on for quite sometime.

ALLEN: I think he took off about an hour and a half ago, I think it was noon, California time. He's been up there a while.

O'BRIEN: We can probably get the endurance of the Beechcraft Duchess pretty easily, but of course we would be presuming that he took off with topped-off fuel tanks which we don't know to be the case.

ALLEN: How much larger is this Beechcraft than yesterday's Cessna, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well, as far as seats go, the Beechcraft Duchess technically has six seats but I believe it really is a four-person aircraft -- actually just four seats, I take that back. The 1720-RG, which you saw yesterday, also a four seat plane, the Duchess has two 180 horsepower engines.

The 172-RG, has a single 160 horsepower engine, I believe, so in theory, you are talking about twice the power here, but obviously the capacity remains basically the same. What that second engine does is provides you a level of security and comfort should you have engine failure that you wouldn't get with the 172-RG.

But for all intents and purposes, these are the same sorts of planes as far as their capacity and capability for doing a mission. The Duchess would cruise a little faster speed than the 172.

ALLEN: How much slower will this pilot bring this plane in than a normal landing?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think he will pretty much bring this in at pretty much the same approach speed which would be in the 65 to 70 knot range for his standard approach. And then as we -- let me just take a look and remind folks where we are in the world. I'm not exactly sure where this camera is. I believe it is on a helicopter. And your Beechcraft Duchess with the four seats is obviously in the lower part of your screen there.

I hope you can see it with all that information down there. What we have been surmising here from the lay-person's perspective, is that the nose wheel might be his problem. We might have some tower communications. Let's listen in to air traffic control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have about two, two and a half hours left (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: I think we just got our answer about his fuel duration. He said he had about two to two and a half hours of fuel remaining.

KING: Miles, I just checked. It has about five hours of endurance with full fuel.

O'BRIEN: OK, so presuming, if we do the math here real quickly based on his launch time and what he just said, two and a half hours to go, this is a pilot who left with a pair of full tanks. So we might want to consider perhaps standing down a little while. I don't know that this is going to sustain us for two and a half hours.

ALLEN: If you are just joining us, this airplane has landing gear deployed, as you can see. The question is whether it is locked down because an indicator light is indicating that it is not. The plane has made a few close flybys, so people on the ground could get an indication and the best they can figure, we are told by the Van Nuys Airport is that it does look like it is in the proper position, but there is no way of knowing.

So, again this plane is going to be up there it could be a couple more hours, we surmise here, before it attempts to make a landing at Van Nuys Airport, which, as we heard from one of our aviator experts who is joining us, is the airport he would pick to make any kind of emergency landing, a very nice airport, with a lot of runway to work with. We do know there are two people on board this Beechcraft twin- engine plane, and that the pilot is a male. That's all we know. We don't know where the plane was headed but it did notice this problem early on in the flight.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Expedite to the end, no delay, to the end please, then ground control 121.7.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That a 514 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) formerly 16 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for low approach.


ALLEN: Can you make sense of what they were talking about?

O'BRIEN: Yes, what you heard was the tower there at Van Nuys, talking to the Duchess, four niner mike, and telling him he is clear for a low approach. And what that is essentially telling us is that he is going to make a low pass, essentially over the runway. This will allow people on the ground to take a close look once again to see if they can determine one way or another what the status is on the landing gear.

I suspect there will be some people there with binoculars, people just trying to get a look with the naked eye to see if they can draw any conclusions as to whether that nose gear, which seems to be the problem, as we say, once again, we are just kind of basing that on these pictures we are seeing, if that nose gear is, in fact, the issue.

ALLEN: They can give their opinion, Miles. Can they say for certain? O'BRIEN: That's a tricky one. I think it might be difficult to draw a conclusion. You could probably look to see if a supporting strut was locked and in place -- let's listen in for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is coming up over the airport property at this time. It looks as though he is going to go flying right down the center line of the runway. He does have some flaps in. It looks as though he's holding his altitude. Holding his altitude at about 50 feet. Holding his altitude 50 feet, that is just a fly-by as (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Looks like it is going to be a fly-by.

KING: Miles, at this point, what I would be doing is having a mechanic take a look at this, someone who is familiar with maintaining this airplane.

O'BRIEN: John, do you know if there is, sort of a 45 degree strut on that nose wheel of some kind that would be evident, and if it were deployed properly they could draw some sort of conclusion as to whether what was a locked gear? KING: I'm looking at a drawing here at how this works, and I don't see anything equivalent of that. But that is what you are hoping the mechanic will do, is be able to look at that and say with enough experience, yes it is in position or it is not. And also, I would be talking to maintenance personnel and brainstorming all the ideas you could have of getting it down if it is not. But at this point you don't want to retract it because you might have a worse situation next time you try and get it down.

O'BRIEN: You know, there was at interesting story a few years ago, I believe it was down in Florida, it involved a very similar aircraft, it was a Piper Arrow, I believe, John, you may check me on this one, it had a similar situation, I believe it was one of the main gears that did not fully deploy.

And some people -- this was in the "kids. don't try this at home" category for sure -- some people got into an automobile, rendezvoused with the plane along the runway at the speeds it was flying, but the plane came down to within grasp of the person who was in the convertible, he yanked on that landing gear, pulled it down into the locked position and he landed without any sort of problems. Do you remember that, John.

KING: I do, indeed. I'm not a fan of those kinds of things. I would hope that we don't do anything extraordinary and I am not sure it is worth the risk. It happened to come out OK, but if I were teaching this student, I would plead with him, please don't do anything extraordinary, just come in and make a normal landing.

O'BRIEN: There were a lot of people, yourself among them, were critical of that. A lot of pilots watched that and thought that that was a rather fool hardy move, given the risk-benefit analysis, if you will. Of course, all is well that ends well. I suppose.

ALLEN: Surprising that was even allowed.

O'BRIEN: Well, it was a small airport and they took matters into their own hands and it happened that way. Of course it did get captured on videotape.

KING: Everybody gets into it when something like this happens. It is very involving. Emergencies are actually very entertaining for the pilot and sometimes you can get distracted by a little abnormality, and fail to fly the airplane properly.

O'BRIEN: There is an important detail. Now do you think he's -- he's probably hand-flying most of this now, John, especially with, I don't know if the second occupant is a pilot, but at a certain point he might just want to put it on autopilot and do some orbits or something and take it easy.

KING: He could probably use a break along through here somewhere, particularly if this is going to wind up being nearly four hours, this man is going to be emotionally exhausted when he get's done with this. O'BRIEN: You might say the back of his shirt will be wet. Let's listen in to the air traffic control frequency at Van Nuys for a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... he does not have his three green. He does not have a red, however, one that shows that he is...

KING: Let me just check that. That's a reporter for KCAL on the scene there, not the air traffic control frequency. Let's listen in for one second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't know if the gear is down locked completely and he's just getting a switch problem, or if that gear is, in fact, not completely down. Again, he is extending his downwind out there. He's going to try and turn inbound about two miles out. We'll see that here shortly. He's going to dial in some flaps, start to descend it. He's starting that -- stand by.

He has cleared to land. He's been cleared to land.

O'BRIEN: We are not hearing the air traffic control frequency right now, but secondhand information, we are hearing through the reporter that he has gotten the clearance to land. And I have to ask John King about this.

If he has, as we said a moment ago, two to two and a half hours of fuel -- and we'll bring you air traffic control as soon as we hear it -- if he has two and a half hours of fuel, still a safe thing to land?

KING: I would rather see him not take it down to the minimum, because I don't want to take the risk of having him run out of gas while he's out there in final. I'm very comfortable with him landing with adequate fuel for go-arounds and all sorts of contingencies.

O'BRIEN: And you mentioned the go-around. He may might very well come down and not feel comfortable with his speeds or his position on the runway, and have to execute a go-around, and that's a fairly fuel-thirsty maneuver. He'd have to firewall the engine, give it full throttle to get back up in the air and get it back around. And as John points out correctly, if you are on vapors at that point, you'd be -- you might as well be the space shuttle. You're landing.

ALLEN: At what point do you make that decision? How low can you be?

O'BRIEN: We're just being told by producers that we're probably watching the final approach here. And he has been cleared to land. Now, the decision to do that go-around can happen right up until the last minute before touchdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. We'd like to get a clearance for a flight of two to enter the runway after filing the alert aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 525, roger, have your request. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) O'BRIEN: You're listening to another aircraft talking to the control tower, requesting a clearance for, obviously, subsequent to this landing attempt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... now we're at 15 minutes worth of fuel from its original-intended touchdown. That was about an hour and 15 minutes ago, about an hour and a half ago now.

ALLEN: Again, there are two people on this aircraft, Beechcraft Duchess 76, that are about to make an attempt to land here without knowing whether the landing gear is, in fact, down or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighth of a mile from touchdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open threshold to the runway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is over the runway. Over the runway center line. And he is over the threshold now. He is going to use all 8,000 feet of this runway here. He's touching down at the instrument approaching -- instrument approach touchdown zone is right there. Gently putting it on. Gently putting it on.

It looks as though those main gears are holding. They are holding. He is not applying a whole lot of breaks. He's not putting in a whole punch of input. He's just keeping it on the center line, keeping those flaps down, trying to keep the weight off the main gear. He's got the propellers chopped and feathered, completely shut down. Rolling out, not applying brakes.

He is going to leave it on the runway. That is what he's been told by his maintenance crew, just to go ahead and leave it on the runway. Don't try and taxi it off. The fire crews are all alongside him. They're pulling back onto the runway behind him from the tax- away. He's coming to a complete halt, about 5,000 feet down the runway. And it looks as though he has made the successful landing. The door is opening. It looks like the copilot or instructor is coming out at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to show runway 1-6 right and 3-4 left, closed until further notice.


O'BRIEN: What you've seen is what every pilot would hope for.

John King, I know you weren't able to see CNN, but I think you probably gathered from the discussion there that everything seemed to work just fine. One of the more celebrated routine Duchess landings, perhaps, in history.

KING: This person is going to remember this landing for the rest of his life, isn't he?

O'BRIEN: We'll try to get him a videotape.

KING: Well, you know, the interesting thing about it is, we're all saying wow, what was all that about? And that's the way the majority of these turn out.

O'BRIEN: Important lesson there for folks who maybe have some misconceptions about general aviation, that folks out there are well- trained. There's a classic example of someone going through their checklist, taking all kinds of precautions and doing in the end a safe thing and a thing that turned out to be posing no risk to property or to human life.

ALLEN: And now they'll try to figure out what was going on. It must have been a faulty light up in that cockpit.

O'BRIEN: A faulty light, a bad wire -- who knows what it was? You know, that's something that will be easy to diagnose -- completely intact airplane. But as you take one more look at this final approach. I used the term textbook yesterday. This was an excellent landing. He greased it, as a term we use in aviation.

ALLEN: But you also say any landing is a good landing.

O'BRIEN: And that's the flip side of that coin, is that, while you like to have these nice ones to make your passengers happy, the fact that you can open the door and walk away and, in the case of yesterday, carry your headsets, is a good thing.

Left on your screen is a live picture, right of your screen, just a few moments ago as the Beechcraft Duchess came in on final approach, two aboard. Indications that the landing gear were not down and locked. We think that perhaps the nose gear was the indication, but given the fact that it held up, who knows? Maybe it was just a bad light bulb that caused this entire spectacle that we watched today.

As you look on the left, the runway there, the 8,000 foot runway at Van Nuys Airport, 16 right, 34 left, is now closed. As he brought it down, taking it very close to the so-called stall speed, which is the speed at which the plane ceases to fly, brought it down very gently and held back on the steering wheel, if you will, as long as possible to give it a gentle touchdown on the nose gear. Chopped his power, which is to say, just deprive the engines of fuel, which happened very quickly thereafter. Undoubtedly cut his electrical power in the process of doing that.

And then, one of the advised things to do in a case like this is just let it roll. You've got 8,000 feet of runway. Stepping on the brakes could cause some difficulties for you. You don't know whether that's a landing gear that perhaps is teetering, so he let it roll. He had the runway to do it, and they walked away with an incredible story to tell.

KING: You know, Miles, one of the reasons for all this circling in advance is to just think through all of these things. There are a lot of things to think about, and the pilot slowed down and took the time to think it through and make sure that he had everything all lined up and he did it right.

O'BRIEN: I see them now, John, on CNN. It appears to be one of the pilots, literally lying on the pavement... (LAUGHTER)

KING: With a sweaty shirt, right?

O'BRIEN: That too. But he's actually -- he's paying a lot of attention to the nose wheel area, so I may have been correct, that that was where he was getting a faulty indication.

ALLEN: Actually, the two men that were on the plane, one is in the military flight suit and the gentleman squatting to the right of him.

O'BRIEN: All right. So that might be a mechanic or somebody who's worked on that plane who's taking a look-see.

KING: This is an airplane that's very often used for training.

O'BRIEN: All right, here's -- we have a double feature for you now. We're going to take a look, since it is landing gear week here on CNN. To your right is yesterday, Fort Worth, Texas, at 172-RG, no gear. To your left is the Duchess 76, landing just moments ago at Van Nuys Airport in southern California. In one case we had wheels, in the other case not, but in the final analysis the end result was pretty much the same in the sense the pilots walked away. The owner of that 172-RG has got some body work to do at the very least, maybe more so. But in any case, perhaps that will be the end of it. And we can only hope so for all the pilots out there right now.

KING: Well, we had two pilots do a pretty good job two days in a row.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

ALLEN: Yes, we did. Hopefully that will conclude emergency- landing week, as Miles has dubbed it, here on CNN. It's only Tuesday. There are three more days to go. So we were glad that this one worked out just fine for the two men that you can see right there on your screen. These were the men that were in the plane. We may hear from them later. We'll have to see about that, about what they went through up there as they were preparing to bring this down without knowing if their landing gear would act properly.

Yesterday, the two gentleman that were in the plane, the pilot instructor and the student, talked about the same level of excitement in their voices as you gentleman have had in yours today, that this was just something we train for and we execute without trying to get to harried about it. And as you said, take our time, and that's what they did yesterday and did today, again.

This happened at Van Nuys Airport. That's about 30 minutes from Los Angeles. The pilots had a beautiful day to fly and experienced something like this. And again, everyone is fine, the plane is down, the story is pretty much over at this point.

Thanks to John King, our expert on the line with us, and Miles O'Brien, our correspondent and anchor who is also a pilot, for being with us as well.



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