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Plenty of fright on flight

John Colson

Passengers who were profoundly frightened when a United Expressplane lost an engine last week say they were shocked to hear anairline executive claim the incident was a “non-event.”The plane, listed as United Express flight No. 5668 on Feb. 11,was about 10 minutes into a trip from Aspen to Denver when oneof the four engines on the BAE-146 jet suddenly quit. The planelanded without further incident at Denver International Airport,surrounded by a phalanx of fire engines and emergency vehicles.Passenger Joyce Amico said in a news story published in the Feb.17 Aspen Times that she heard a “huge noise” and saw a tongueof flame come from the engine before it was shut down by the pilot.Amico, as well as two other passengers who have come forward sincereading the story, all said the plane lost altitude before thepilot was able to correct for the loss of power and resume course.Company CEO Geoffrey Crowley, however, described the incidentas “a non-event” and maintained that “none of the passengers evennoticed.” Bryan Gonzales and Dan Martin, two locals who work in town (Gonzalesworks at The Aspen Times), definitely noticed. Both reported asignificant loss of altitude after the engine went out.”We dropped a lot,” said Martin, noting that he “flies all thetime” and is familiar with the Aspen-to-Denver route.”If no one noticed, why did the captain come on and say we’d hada problem?” Martin asked, adding that all around the passengercompartment, “women were clutching each other; they were crying.”Gonzales said one woman was “screaming `No, no, no, no’ over andover again, which wasn’t helping matters at all.”According to Martin, after the loud noise and engine flameout,the plane veered to the right as it dropped. Gonzales said thatafter the engine quit, he could hear the turbine inside “windingdown to silence” and wondered if all the engines had quit.But within a short time, he said, “you could hear the plane kindof pick up its speed again” as it leveled out.He estimated that some 30 seconds passed between the engine failureand the captain’s communication on the plane’s intercom, “butit seemed like an hour.”Asked how he felt at the moment, he said, “I thought that wasit. I thought my days on Earth were done.”Martin and Gonzales both said one of the stewardesses on the flighthad to be helped into the bathroom after the engine failure, andthat she later came out with a bag in her hand and was wipingher mouth.Both men were mildly outraged at the statement this week by Crowley,president and chief operating officer of Air Wisconsin, whichoperates United Express. He said the flight attendants and crewhad specifically been asked if the passengers had been frightenedby the experience.”To just blow it off and act like it didn’t happen is just ridiculous,”said Martin. Gonzales added that he did not feel the airline owedhim anything except “maybe an explanation.”Another passenger on the same plane, Jae Gregory of Carbondale,said she tried to use the in-flight phone to call her husbandafter the incident. She was told “they had to turn the power off[that runs the phones, as well as the lights] to keep power forthe plane.” She said she, too, was disturbed by Crowley’s remarks.”He was obviously trying to minimize an incident that some ofus are going to remember for a long, long time,” she said.Crowley could not be reached for further comment on Thursday.


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