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Emergency Landing Turns Short Flight into Marathon
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Tuesday, March 7, 2023
 

BY KATE DALY

I know it's hard to get to Sun Valley, but I didn't know it can be even harder to leave!

It was snowing on Saturday, March 4, but the explanation United Airlines gave for why flight 5833 left Friedman Memorial Airport after 4--almost two hours late--was that foul weather in the Bay Area had caused the incoming flight to be delayed.

Less than half an hour after takeoff, the plane took a noticeable dip. Shortly thereafter, the pilot told us there was a mechanical issue and he needed to make an emergency landing.  The plane banked to veer in another direction and started to descend gradually.

The head flight attendant said we might have to use slides to evacuate and asked for any trained people, such as firefighters and police, to help at the exits. In response, a couple of NetJets pilots moved to the rear of the plane. 

Then the flight attendant told us to study the safety card to prepare to get into a bracing position.  She also instructed us to put away loose belongings, including eye glasses.

She sent the attendants down the aisle to check on our practice bracing positions and all three women seemed nervous.  A crying baby added to the tense atmosphere.  The mother cradled her while talking tearfully into a phone, and I thought everyone probably felt like sobbing--they just didn’t express it out loud.

Otherwise, it was pretty quiet for the approximate 10 minutes we had to get ready.  My husband suggested we put our coats on, and I pocketed my phone and reading glasses as we anxiously watched our approach to the snowy ground dotted with cattle and two-lane roads.

The head flight attendant said the pilot would tell us when to brace and warned us we could experience several "impacts."

It was scary as hell gearing up for a potential crash landing in a field, waiting for the command “Brace!”  But, somehow, even though we hadn’t spotted an airport in sight, the plane suddenly landed safely and smoothly on a real runway.

Clapping erupted in the cabin. Then relieved passengers immediately pulled out their phones to contact family and friends. We still had no idea where or why we were on the ground with emergency vehicles on standby.

Long minutes passed before the pilot told us we were in Twin Falls, that the cockpit windshield was cracked and he needed to change course for fear it would get worse.  He went on to explain United doesn't operate in Twin, just Delta, and that the airport was closed, so there was a lot to sort out. 

Around 6 we got off the plane and eyed the problem for ourselves.  Half of the windshield looked like a small rock had hit it and created a hole with a large cobweb pattern of shattered glass.

We felt relieved to have averted a more serious situation and were glad when a ground crew opened up the empty terminal and brought us snacks, water and pizza.  We were advised a "rescue plane" would be arriving from Salt Lake City around 8 to take us on to San Francisco. 

Well, that actually happened closer to 11, and once we were onboard, the new pilot apologized for adding to our "adventure" because we didn't have enough fuel and had to wait another half-hour for a fuel truck to fill up the plane.

When we took off, we experienced some turbulence, but most of the remaining 43 passengers tried to sleep.  A few had peeled off in Twin to make other travel arrangements.

We finally landed in San Francisco after midnight (1 a.m. Mountain Time) and taxied for quite a while because no "qualified" workers were available to guide us to the gate.

Thankfully, my husband and I only had carry-ons, so we didn't have to deal with another wait at baggage claim.

We felt fortunate to pull into our final destination at 1:20 a.m.--14 hours after we began our journey in Ketchum.  Typically, it’s usually takes five hours to leave our home in Ketchum and arrive at our home in the Bay Area when we fly. Drive time door-to-door, by contrast, is usually 11 and a half hours. But that is looking like the better option after this grueling trip!


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