Sunday, September 19, 1999

Passenger sounded alarm

Was first to notice smell, warm floor

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An alert passenger in first class was the first to notice the metallic smell from an electrical short and a floorboard growing warm to the touch aboard a Delta jetliner Friday night.

        That realization, less than 15 minutes into a flight from the Cincinnati area to New York, helped avert disaster.

        After feeling the warm floorboard, the unnamed passenger alerted the crew on Delta Flight 2030, bound for LaGuardia Airport, and a flight attendant sprayed the floorboard with water from a fire extinguisher as the pilot turned the plane around.

        The McDonnell Douglas MD 88 landed safely back at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport as the cabin and cockpit filled with smoke. None of the 119 people aboard — 114 passengers and five crew members — was seriously injured.

        A heating unit in a wall of the cargo hold apparently shorted out, causing the insu lation to start smoldering. But it was still unclear Saturday whether there was an actual fire.

        Dan Lewis, a Delta spokesman, said maintenance crews were inspecting the plane Saturday.

        “At no point did anyone see a flame — not the crew or any passengers, not in the air or on the ground afterwards,” Mr. Lewis said. “But there was visible smoke in the cabin and at least the odor of smoke in the cockpit.”

        The 10-year-old aircraft has no history of mechanical problems, maintenance records show.

        A complete service check on all the plane's systems is conducted once a day, and was last performed on the McDonnell Douglas aircraft Sept. 17.

        Two weeks before that, the plane received a flight line service where a team of four or five mechanics check itselectronics and hydraulics.

        And on July 9, the plane received a layover check, where it was pulled into a hangar so that itsouter skin could be X-rayed to check for stress.

        “The plane has had no history of problems,” Mr. Lewis said.

        The problem surfaced after the pilot finished his ascent, and he had to backtrack about 12 miles to safety.

        Steve Hanshew, a Leesburg man who has been a commercial pilot since 1985, said it was an ideal time for the problem to happen.

        “Pilots are most busy at takeoff and landing,” Mr. Hanshew said. “And the farther off the ground you are, the more time you have to think and choose the options you might divert to.”

        The airport conducted a major disaster training session early Saturday morning, involving more than 200 fake victims, 40 ambulances, 12 fire engine companies, the Red Cross, a network of area hospitals, about 200 people from the airport's operational unit, a hazardous materials team and about 50 observers.

        Friday night was dress rehearsal of sorts.

        “It was the exact same group of people that responded Friday,” said Capt. Glenn Stamber, of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Fire Department.

        Ted Bushelman, airport communications director, said the drill happens once every four years and had been scheduled for six months. It was just bizarre coincidence that a real emergency happened the night before, he said.

        “Some of the people last night thought the call was just a test to see if they'd answer,” Mr. Bushelman said. “For a split second, it just seemed like they were throwing the test on us early.”


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