I was on American Airlines Flight 1716, from Los Angeles to St Louis, non-stop, on the 13th of July, 2009.
The flight was scheduled to land at St Louis at 10pm local time; about an hour before that, I heard the announcement on the PA system, “We have a medical ‘situation’ on board…if there is a medical person on board, please identify yourself.”
I didn’t get up from my seat, knowing that there was very little I could do to help. But I was sitting in 9A in Economy….just behind the Business Class section…and I neither saw the ill passenger being brought up to the front of the plane, or any medical person going up. So, I thought, the ill passenger must have been in Business Class…or it could be a member of the crew or even the pilot, as happened
recently on a Continental Airlines flight .
Some time later, we started making a descent, and that was surprising, because we were nowhere near the scheduled time for landing. Also, as we came down, I looked at the airport lights…this was not St Louis (I can identify the St Louis airport at any time of day or night)!
We landed...and the pilot announced that we had landed at Kansas City, that we had a "medical situation" on board, and the passenger had to be offloaded.
I thanked my stars it was not me who was in this situation, and we settled down to wait until the ambulance people took the unfortunate fellow-passenger off the aircraft.
But then, there was another announcement that there had been a "burning smell" on the aircraft, and that the pilot had made the emergency landing in order to take no chances. Here's a video I quickly took, and the pilot clearly talks about fire:
First we were asked to deplane, then we were told we could stay on, then we were asked, once again, to leave the aircraft. We went through the aerobridge into the boarding area, and it was announced (reasonably enough) that we should not leave the security area as we would not, then, be allowed to fly onwards on the same flight.
I did not see any passenger being taken off the flight, even though the ambulance and fire trucks (these are always on the tarmac when a plane makes an unscheduled landing) were on my side of the plane, and I could see them. Perhaps it was done and I did not notice...I simply don't know. All I know is, that from my seat, I could see up to the cockpit, and I did not see any ill passenger lying in the aisle, nor was there anyone ill in the aft of the plane, because I went back all the way to the toilets just before the plane started its descent.
Here's the plane on the tarmac (I took this through the glass, from a distance) surrounded by the flashing lights of the fire trucks and the ambulances:
But then, once again, we got conflicting announcements. First we were told that there seemed to have been a fire on the aircraft, and that the CDC would have to come and check out the aircraft before we could travel onwards.
Then we were told that it was a medical emergency, that the passenger (I heard the word "Vietnamese" but am not sure) had to be taken to the hospital, and that we were quarantined in case it was a case of Swine Flu....
We sat on, I played with an 8-month-old baby and enjoyed that very much, and then struck up a conversation with Joe Burke, a salesman for a golf supplies company, who told me how he had proposed last December 11 to his girlfriend, by getting Santa to come to the beach and offer her a ring! He said both of them were from St Louis, he was now working in LA, but they would get married this December 11, and their ultimate dream was to live in Boston...Here's Joe Burke:
Such stories, smiling across at some of the other passengers, and trying to find an electrical outlet to charge my laptop, whiled two hours away, and ultimately, an American Airlines staffer made the announcement that the passenger "did not have Swine Flu or HIV1 Virus".
After this, there was a further announcement that the aircraft had been inspected for fire damage, and that we could now take the aircraft to St Louis! I was thoroughly confused, and asked the announcer, "What happned to the medical emergency?" The gentleman gave me a rather strange look and mumbled, "That's been taken care of."
Here's the staffer just after he had made the "fire" announcement:
"So," I persisted, "there were TWO emergencies at the same time on a single aircraft?" I didn't get a satisfactory reply to this, and we were asked to get back on the plane.
With my fellow-passengers, I arrived two-and-a-half hours late in St Louis, which meant that I was not too sure if the Metro to U City would be running...DS had to come over and fetch me from the airport, but as I was very, very tired (I had left for the LA airport at 2pm), I was glad that he did take the trouble to drive up at that hour of night.
I had never been in any kind of difficulty; I had food with me (the airline certainly did not organize any food for us, and perhaps all concessions at KC airport were closed...but I did feel they could have given out some of the snacks that they sold on board.) The airline asked us all to help ourselves to some soft drinks. I informed A and D about the delay, and was quite happy to wait in the safety of the airport terminal. I had no deadlines (excuse the terrible pun!) to meet.
But...the question remains in my mind. The story of what really happened on Flight 1716 ...or rather, the two stories...don't quite gel. What are the odds of an aircraft having TWO emergencies at once? And if it was such a situation, how come neither yesterday's newspaper, nor today's (St Louis Post-Dispatch...I went out and got the paper both days!) never gave it a mention? Surely such an unusual situation would be featured?
So…American Airlines…what REALLY happened on Flight 1716? I have emailed Ameircan Airlines, provided them with a link to this post, and asked for an answer….let’s see what happens!
PS. When I googled for “American Airlines Flight 1716” and clicked on the FlightStats link, I got this bald message:
AA 1716 Flight Status
Flight: (AA) American Airlines 1716
Departure Date: Mon Jul 13, 2009
Status: Diverted to (MCI) Kansas City International Airport
It doesn’t say that the flight finally made it to St Louis, and of course, no reason is given for the diversion. But a FlightStat site wouldn’t do that anyway.