Passengers on Emirates flight EK773 to Dubai heard two bangs, and then a third, as the plane levelled out in the air and its landing gear failed to retract minutes out of Cape Town on Wednesday.
“We thought we were goners, to be quite honest. We didn’t know what was happening. There were terrible crunching noises,” British tourist Carol Ann Maxwell told the Cape Times.
Maxwell said she had wept and held her daughter, Kaley Ann’s hand.
The flight left Cape Town for Dubai at 1.55pm and returned to Cape Town at 3.20pm after a technical problem developed with the aircraft’s landing gear, Emirates regional manager Fouad Caunhye said. “At no point was the safety of the 243 passengers or crew at risk.”
Passengers said airline staff had told them after the third “bang” that the plane would turn back, but many passengers complained that they were left in the dark after this.
“When the wheels were supposed to go in we heard a loud thump, and we all knew something was wrong. Everyone just looked at each other nervously,” said Harriet Lowe, who was travelling alone to London via Dubai.
For the next hour and a half the plane circled over the Indian Ocean, apparently to jettison fuel before landing, but at the time many passengers did not know what was happening.
“I thought: ‘What if it’s an emergency landing over the sea?’” Maxwell said.
“We had to fly at an altitude of 6 000 feet so the fuel would evaporate,” passenger Melanie Sheldon said.
Passengers would be put on a replacement flight today, Caunhye said. An investigation was under way.
The city’s Disaster Risk Management spokesman, Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, said the pilot had noticed an undercarriage mechanical failure at 2.37pm, and the city had launched a disaster relief plan and emergency services were dispatched to the scene.
“While the plane was experiencing the difficulties in the air, an emergency landing area was being prepared.”
Solomons-Johannes said the aircraft had circled in the air until the emergency runway was ready. “We offered everyone on board trauma counselling once they landed,” he said.
Fire and Rescue spokesperson Theo Layne said 11 fire engines had been deployed, along with six rescue cars.
Sheldon said her four-year-old son had not eaten since 10am. “I’m actually disgusted by Emirates. I’m exhausted and hungry. Nobody’s been given any information,” she said.
Emirates had booked hotel accommodation for all passengers by the time they left the terminal building, but Sheldon said nothing had been communicated to the passengers of EK773.
Anna Erlank, travelling with three children, said she had not been worried but “irritated about not being able to fly”.
“My children are hungry, hungry, hungry. There’s no consideration for children or mothers travelling with children – it’s a free-for-all,” Erlank said.
“It’s not about the flight turning around. It’s about the service after (the flight was grounded).” - Cape Times