Emergency Landing, Fuel Leak, and Fire Trucks at SLC (and a Business Lesson, Too)

I had an eventful trip flying back from the Podcast Movement 2014 conference, yesterday (18 Aug 2014).

My Sunday flight leg from Dallas to Boise was canceled while trying to make my connecting flight in Denver; and the next flight wasn’t until Monday.  “Dang, not again!” I thought. I was stranded in Chicago just two weeks earlier under very similar circumstances.

United Airline Plane

“Emergency” Aboard United Flight 73.


Except US Air Gave the “Ensign Solute”

However, this time I was flying with United Airlines.  United was good enough to put me up in the Hilton Double Tree Hotel with $14 food voucher. Last time US Air just gave me the “ensign solute.”

For those not familiar with the sea service, an ensign is the lowest ranking commissioned navy officer. An ensign solute is a shoulder shrug… as in, “I don’t know.”

We all know how inconvenient a canceled flight is, but what can one do about it? I decided to just roll with the punches and accept my predicament. Heck, the Double Tree Hotel wasn’t too bad after all!

The next morning was lazy because the van ride to the Denver airport wasn’t until 10:30 AM. I awoke, had breakfast, showered, and then checked out. I read the paper and checked my email until my ride arrived.

That morning it rained but it had stopped before the van arrived. The half-hour trip to the airport was sunny and nice, unlike the Dallas humidity I experienced the day before.

I checked in and easily went through security, using TSA Pre-Check (love it!), and strolled to my gate, B43. When boarding began, I stayed back. I always wait to board. Why hurry? Why wait in line longer and get battered by people as they stow their luggage in the overhead.  So, I took my time.

ADD moment: Why don’t they load the plane from back to front?  Ever wonder that?

Anyway, the takeoff from Denver was normal and I settled in by organizing my business plans and then began reading the Wall Street Journal (complimentary of the Double Tree Hotel, thank you!).

The Flight Was Uneventful Until I Noticed Something

The flight was uneventful until I noticed something an hour into the flight. The Boeing 737 hard banked to the north and then a little later I noticed it descending. I thought it “must be normal, just changing altitude.” The angle of the descent was a little steep, but I just wrote it off (again) as “normal” and started to read my Kindle book.

About 15 or 20 minutes later, the pilot announced that we were diverting to Salt Lake City because of a fuel leak. I was seated on the starboard (right) wing and looked out the window. I didn’t see any fuel streaming off the wing. I wondered if the port-side wing was leaking. I couldn’t see anything from my view point, however.

It Was All Business Now

The flight attendants made their “routine” announcement to put our trays and seat backs up. Their tone of voice wasn’t so friendly this time. The attendant had a more “business” tone to her voice.  I thought, “This may be a little more serious than just a small fuel leak.”

Another attendant made one trip down the aisle and then took her seat, aft.

About 10 minutes later, the plane hard banked to the starboard-side and then to the port side. During the first turn, I peered out the window to see SLC’s airport to the north. The aircraft was lining up with SLC’s runway for an immediate landing.

As we approached, I thought of a few “mission oriented” landings I experience in C-130s during my two deployments to Afghanistan. I remembered seeing MRAP (mine-resistant, ambush protected) gun trucks staged up and down one lonely mountain-top runway – we landed, unloaded some pallets and personnel, and departed. It took just five or six minutes and we were airborne again.  That was a ride!

Thankfully, that was far away by now for me. Or was it? Somethings remain with you for a long time.

Our United pilot was all business now. It appeared he had a similar mission, except I knew we wouldn’t be seeing MRAPs lining the runway this time.

As our pilot brought us in, I thought I saw yellow-green fire trucks rolling toward to the runway. Luckily, the landing was by the book; and just as we slowed down the B-737 veered to the parallel taxiway.

We Were Shrouded by Fire Engines

I could see five or six fire trucks and auxiliary vehicles shrouding us as the plane came to a complete stop. We all waited, looking out our portholes. I can tell some of the passengers were looking for leaking fuel or smoke. “Great,” I thought, “no visible fire I don’t smell smoke.”  When you deploy to

Airport Fire Engine

One of the Fire engines that greeted the aircraft. 18 Aug 2014.  SLC Airport, UT

a war zone, you are always assessing the situation and readying to take action. This situation was no different.

There was a long pause and, finally, I heard a passenger say, “That’s a good sign” as one of the nozzle fire trucks bugged out for their firehouse. I heard the engines wind up and we began rolling again.

Out the starboard window, I noticed “Air Ops” pickups and smaller fire-hose trucks following us to the ramp. They stayed with us until the plane stopped and all the passengers deplaned.

Fortunately, it wasn’t “all that exciting,” after all. However, I was impressed how well the “emergency” was professionally handled by the flight crew, the flight attendants, the firefighters, and air ops.

They train for the worst and thankfully today was nothing like the worst! We all fly on machines and they sometimes breakdown. But, being an aviator myself, I know airplanes are designed with backup systems, maintained well, and the pilots and crews are well trained. This situation wasn’t any different.

Great Service by United Airlines

United and the airport crews are obviously professionals. United treated us really well, too. Heck, they even offered us a $75 voucher or 35,000 air miles. Just in case you’re wondering, I took the air miles.

United even booked me on a flight to Boise via Delta Airlines (their competitor). I actually arrived sooner than my originally scheduled flight, be it 20 hours later! That’s how to gain a loyal customer.

So, that’s my travel log. Not a typical trip I know, but it all turned out well. I even learned a few things at the conference. But, I began to wonder how different this experience was to my canceled flight in Chicago weeks earlier.

…just sayin’.

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One Comment:

  1. Many thanks for sharing this information so freely. You should think about writing a book.

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