Exclusive: The Man Who Walks (and Talks) Away from the Belly Landing

21_BellyFlop

Sinan Unur was one of 31 passengers and three crew on US Airways Express Flight 4560, a Dash 8-100 turboprop operated by Piedmont Airlines that belly landed at Newark International. So what’s the takeaway Sinan:  “It renewed my confidence in aviation.”

What?

“Things worked exactly as they should work in an emergency.”

Sinan is one cool dude, a 43-year-old economics consultant who was heading home to Ithaca, N.Y., and his fiancée, when the portside main landing gear failed to extend coming into Newark from Philadelphia. I spoke to him via Skype.

The details of the dramatic belly landing were reported at The Gate, shortly after it happened.

Sinan, too, wrote a gripping yet mild-mannered 6-page blog about the incident. Here’s an excerpt:  “In principle, a landing with all gears up is the same as a regular landing – except for the sparks and smoke … I am happy to have walked away from this with my body intact and my laptop in working order.”

I once asked a Delta pilot friend of mine if he’d ever had an emergency in the air. “No,” he said, “but we’re so over trained I don’t think it would phase me. Remember that US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese? I’m taking nothing away from Sully, but 99.9% of pilots would have pulled that off.”

I guess if you solve the question of trust anything is possible.

Now comes Capt. Edward Powers, the Piedmont pilot who used what he had and pulled off an extraordinary belly landing, crediting checklist procedures and complete trust in the system for preventing a crushingly sad outcome.

But let’s let Sinan and his bottomless capacity for understanding tell this story. Here’s some of the conversation I scribbled from our Skype talk.

When did you know something was wrong?

I put away my book when I heard the landing gear go down. But I didn’t hear the thud or see it extend on my side so I thought ‘Oh, great, now we’re in for a long night.’

Did you break out in a cold sweat?

No, I figured we’d have to do a belly landing. I knew I was going to have to leave my laptop on the plane and I hoped it wouldn’t get soaked in foam (fire retardant). The one thing that worries me is people panicking and clogging exits in these kinds of situations. It was nice out. The plane’s a sturdy plane. The pilot knew what he was doing. I was more worried about what would happen after we belly landed, about when I’d get home. My heartbeat didn’t change or anything. The airport was going to deal with whatever happened.

What happens in the aircraft when passengers know there’s going to be an emergency landing?

Initially, I don’t think anybody knew what was going on. I did because I was listening for the other wheel to go down. The RPM’s increased and I knew we were aborting the landing. We started doing various maneuvers; tipping the wings, the nose, I assume trying to free the wheel. It was about a half-hour later that people started asking questions and the flight attendant said there was a mechanical problem. One of the pilots came with a flashlight to look where the wheel should have been. Later, a pilot announced that the landing gear wasn’t responding so we would make an emergency landing. At 200 feet (altitude) he would say “Brace, Brace, Brace,” and then the flight attendant would takeover and repeat the instructions. On landing we were told to wait for the sign to leave the aircraft. I could see there was fear in some people, but people pretty much took it very well.

Has there been any follow-up by US Airways?

They did call the next day but I was driving and didn’t want to be distracted. I guess I’m going to have to get my jacket cleaned (chemical smell). But no, there hasn’t been any follow-up. (All 31 passengers received a $500 credit voucher on US Airways.)

What do you take away from all this?

It renewed my confidence in aviation because everything under the circumstances went exactly as I would expect. We were lucky the other landing gear was able to retract because that would be a scarier landing with one wheel down. It actually felt quite smooth on the airplane. You just float, float, float and then you touch and there are no brakes. I didn’t feel any jolts. I keep telling people that flying is actually a safe thing to do.

Anything else you’d like to say?

The (US Airways) voucher rubs me the wrong way. If you know you’re going to use the airline it has a value. But at this point that presumption should not be made. But I understand. I actually arrived at my destination. You know, a little bit late, but snowstorms have actually caused me more inconvenience. I’m grateful, let’s put it that way.

You’re one cool dude, Sinan. And a nice guy, to boot.

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Comments (Showing 3 of 3)

  • ffI at 1:32am May 22, 2013

    What about the LOT plane that landed in Warsaw after taking off from Chicago?
    That was a much larger plane with many more passengers

  • ffI at 1:35am May 22, 2013

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/01/world/europe/poland-plane
    sorry JFK was the origin

    All said and done this was done well.
    The difference is that the LOT plane landed after the runway was prepared for landing with fire retardant, I think

  • reamworks at 4:00am May 23, 2013

    US Airways sounds AWFUL! A $500 *voucher*? You should at least get the IDB payment

    I’m glad you’re safe.

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