Jet Blue flight blows two tires while landing, 15 injured

By Hudson Sangree and Queenie Wong

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ The landing didn’t seem so bad at first.

     There was a loud thud. The pilot said the plane had blown a tire, and people grumbled they’d be late.

     Then the lights went out, and the engines died.

     “Get out! Get out! Get out!” flight attendants shouted as they threw open the exit doors.

     What happened over the next minutes Thursday at Sacramento International Airport sent a handful of passengers to the hospital with minor injuries and caused hardly any flight delays.

     But for the 86 passengers of JetBlue flight 262 from Long Beach, who left their burning plane on exit slides, the afternoon was nerve-wracking.

     “It was a crazy experience you don’t expect on a Thursday,” said Stacey Benuzzi, 27, an eighth-grade teacher from Long Beach who was on her way to visit family in Rio Linda.

     Benuzzi was sitting in the middle of the Airbus A320 when it landed hard at about 12:50 p.m. There was a loud bang, followed by the flight attendants’ calls to exit the plane, she said.

     As passengers surged toward the doorways, some reached for bags in the overhead bins.

     “This plane is on fire. Get out of the plane,” a flight attendant yelled from the rear of the jet, Benuzzi said.

     Passengers “moved a lot faster,” she said.

     Benuzzi got to the rear exit and was surprised to see the slide. She and two other passengers jumped nearly at once, their bodies tangling on the way down, she said.

     Her flip flops came off and she ran across the pavement barefoot.

     At the front of the plane, Michelle McDuffie was having a similar experience as she reached the exit door. “I came around the corner. I don’t know what I expected. But there was a big slide,” she said. “I grabbed my phone and my purse and slid down the ramp.”

     McDuffie, 33, who owns a gym, said she had no time to think before she jumped and sped down the slide, which she said felt like an inflatable swimming-pool raft. It dropped at a nearly 45-degree angle about 12-15 feet, she said.

     “It was fast, really fast,” she said. “There was no time to think. You hit the ground so hard.”

     There was a foot drop at the bottom and an older woman behind her tumbled off and struck the asphalt, she said.

     The pilot came down next and asked if everyone was OK. “He apologized and seemed shaken up,” she said.

     A number of passengers had friction burns from the rubbery material on their arms, legs and backs, McDuffie said. Others were bleeding from their heads and hands.

     Beneath its wings, the plane’s tires were on fire, with emergency crews dousing the flames, passengers said.

     A Jetblue Airways spokeswoman said all four tires blew and the brakes caught fire on landing.

     “We have had emergency landings before, but the elements of this situation are unique,” Alison Croyle, JetBlue manager of corporate communications, wrote in an e-mail. She would not give examples of emergency landings involving JetBlue aircraft.

     Thursday’s incident was the only time since the airport’s 1967 opening that passengers have been evacuated using emergency slides, said airport spokeswoman Gina Swankie.

     She said the airport has two runways, and the fire caused no delays other than the cancellation of JetBlue’s 1:22 p.m. return flight to Long Beach.

     Passengers from Flight 262 waited on the tarmac and then boarded a bus that took them to a warehouse-like building where they were reunited with concerned friends and family.

     Mike Gerosin, 42, of Redding, was waiting to pick up his fiancee when he saw the plane’s hard landing and then smoke. “She’s a pilot herself, so she was very worried about the landing because she had never felt that or seen that before.”

     Of the 15 passengers who sustained minor injuries, five were taken to local hospitals, airport officials said.

     Others suffered mainly from frazzled nerves.

     Kim Sions, 42, from Huntington Beach, was on Flight 262 with her 3-year-old son, Cayden. She said she felt panicked out of concern for the boy when flight attendants gave the evacuation order.

     “I thought we were going to die,” Sions said. “I thought the plane was going to explode, and this one guy helped me get my son out because I was just panicking. I was a wreck.”

     Cayden, she said, was doing fine. “I was worse than he was,” Sions said. “I think he thought the slide was fun.”