The airplane carrying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a precautionary landing in St. Louis on Monday after the crew had a problem keeping the nose up on takeoff from Chicago.
(See "pressofAtlanticCity.com" for original story)
The plane, an MD-80 Midwest charter, struggled to keep the nose at the necessary angle, as it left for Charlotte, N.C., the pilot said.
Later, Midwest Airlines said the problem developed because an emergency slide located in the tail cone of the plane deployed in flight and never threatened the safety of the flight. The National Transportation Safety Board said it planned to investigate the incident.
A unique type of evacuation slide is found on certain DC-9, MD-80 and Boeing 717 aircraft. This type of slide is located in the aircraft's tailcone. This slide deploys after the tailcone is jettisoned by flight attendants, allowing for evacuation through the rear of the airframe. The procedure to use this exit may involve removing a plug-type pressure bulkhead, or a swing type door that leads directly to a walkway. At the end of the walkway is the slide pack and a manual tailcone jettison handle for use if the tailcone has not already been automatically jettisoned by opening the walkway entrance.
Watch a demonstration on Youtube
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the plane did not declare an emergency but "requested a diversion for mechanical issues they called a flight control problem."
After landing, Obama read the paper in the front cabin, but ventured briefly to chat with the press at one point.
Upon takeoff from Chicago, passengers had felt the plane dip briefly, causing a stomach-rolling sensation like being on a roller coaster, but the unexpected movement didn't alarm the frequent fliers on board.
The pilot said, "We detected a little bit of controllability issue in terms of our ability to control the aircraft in the pitch, which is the nose up and nose down mode," His name was not released in accordance with Midwest policy.
Later, the pilot announced, "The autopilot and the aircraft are just fine. As we descended, whatever was inhibiting our ability has now been rectified. However, just for safety purposes we are going to be stopping in St. Louis and making sure that there's nothing binding our controls."
At Airliners.net, an online aviation forum, an anonymous pilot reflected the sentiments of many airline veterans who know these planes intimately:
"Usually the tail slide will only inflate when you drop the tail cone. There are three ways to do that. An exterior handle on the left side of the aft fuselage, an interior handle in the aft accessory compartment, also on the left side, and opening the aft cabin door using the upper handle. This was obviously a malfunction of some kind to have a slide inflate in flight, and yes it should have stayed inflated so it probably did get punctured by something which turns out was a good thing."
The landing at 9:51 a.m. CDT was normal.
Obama ventured back to chat with reporters after the stop in St. Louis, according to a transcript shared by a traveling aide.
Obama: "Just thought we would spice things up a little bit today. Don't you think?"
Question: "Were you frightened? Were you worried?"
Obama: "Well, you know, anytime a pilot says something's not working the way it's supposed to you make sure you tighten your seat belt."
Question: "You got a little nervous?"
Obama:" Everything seemed under control. The pilots knew what they were doing."
Question: "Did you ever have to do this before? A sort of unscheduled landing on your charter?"
Obama: "Not yet, so this is a first."Obama, his staff, the Secret Service entourage and the press sat on the plane for over an hour as it was being checked out at Lambert Airport.