December 29, 2000 Daily Herald

Jet makes emergency landing at O'Hare

By Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer Posted on December 29, 2000

Federal investigators Thursday were looking into why an American Eagle jet made an emergency landing at O'Hare International Airport after losing control of a key part that determines altitude, officials said Thursday.

None of the nine passengers and three crew members were hurt.

Shortly after Flight 4230 took off at 9:14 p.m. Wednesday, airline spokesman Mark Slitt said, an electrical control locked in place the horizontal stabilizer, the small wing-like projection on the tail that directs the plane up or down.

That meant the twin-engine Embraer ERJ-135 kept rising at the same rate as at take-off, climbing beyond its authorized 5,000 feet.

The pilot declared an emergency and requested to return for a landing. He had to manually control the stabilizer, which requires significant physical force, somewhat akin to driving a car when the power steering goes out, Slitt said.

The pilot tried to land on one runway, but couldn't get the plane low enough. He then targeted another runway but decided to go around for a third try 20 miles southwest of the airport, controllers said.

Firefighters stood by as the plane landed after a 46-minute flight, and passengers got off normally at the gate.

A professional response by the pilot and air traffic controller involved helped bring the plane down safely, airline and controller representatives said.

Air traffic control specialist Brian Thompson cleared out other planes in the area, and guided the pilot back to the airport, according to Ray Gibbons, president of the National Air Traffic Controller's Association at the Elgin TRACON facility.

"The controller did an outstanding job," Gibbons said. "It was as serious a situation as we've encountered in quite some time."

American Eagle took the plane out of service and was examining the flight data recorder, as was the National Transportation Safety Board.

The airlines put up the passengers at a hotel overnight, Slitt said, and flew them to LaCrosse Thursday morning.