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United plane's evacuation slide deploys mid-flight

By Don Babwin

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:11 a.m. HST, Jun 30, 2014

CHICAGO >> An evacuation slide inflated inside a United Airlines plane as it flew from Chicago to Southern California, filling part of the cabin and prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kansas.

Passenger Mike Schroeder said he was sitting in the front row of the plane bound for Orange County, California, late Sunday when he heard a hiss and pop behind him.

Schroeder, 58, turned around and saw the Boeing 737-700's evacuation slide inflating. The slide -- which would normally inflate outside the plane in an emergency -- filled the galley.

"I thought to myself, 'I hope there is no one in the restroom because if they are they're not coming out for a long time,'" he said in a telephone interview.

United Airlines officials said in a statement that no one aboard Flight 1463 was injured.

United said the plane would be flown without passengers to a larger airport for a complete inspection to determine how and why the slide accidentally deployed. Spokeswoman Christen David said she had no details about whether the incident would trigger additional inspections or whether similar incidents had occurred on other United aircraft. Federal aviation officials were investigating.

In November, a JetBlue flight from Florida to Boston had to be diverted when a slide partially deployed toward the aircraft's galley. A message was left Monday with JetBlue seeking the results of its investigation. And in 2008, a plane carrying Barack Obama, the then-Democratic presidential candidate, made an unscheduled stop after the emergency slide located in the aircraft's tail cone deployed during a flight.

"There is no lever or button to push to directly deploy the slide," said Patrick Smith, a longtime commercial pilot, host of a website, AskThePilot.com, and author of "Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel." That, he said, all but rules out "any sort of prank or intentional act."

He said if there is an emergency landing or another emergency that requires a quick evacuation, opening the doors will cause the slide to deploy outside the plane so passengers and crew can slide down. He said occasionally in a non-emergency situation a crew member will forget to disarm the mechanism that triggers deployment of the slide, causing it to inflate as the door is opened.

But because there is no way to open a door while a plane is in flight, he suspects a mechanical malfunction caused the latest incident.

Smith said the slide inflating in such a small area could be harmful to anyone in the immediate vicinity, but that the slide does not inflate with enough force to "push through the side of the cabin."

Schroeder, a lawyer from Newport Beach, California, said he was surprised at how calm all the passengers were, with many -- himself included -- snapping photos of the slide with their cellphones. For a short time, he said, lights went out and movies stopped playing along the left side of the plane.

The pilot announced that the plane had not lost cabin pressure and that he was looking for somewhere to land; a couple of minutes later the pilot said they would be landing at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport. The plane went into what Schroeder described as "a steep decline," but the landing was uneventful. The plane was escorted to the terminal by a fire truck.

"When the pilot came out right after landing he said, 'Oh golly, I've never seen that before,'" Schroeder said.

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Gonzalez wrote:
Just think -- if one of the passangers had a small "pocket knife" they could have de-flated that "slide", opened the galley and rest room, and freeded any passangers trapped there -- buy we all know the TSA, and the US Gov. has made sure all passangers are rendered totally helpless to assest in an emeregancy OR to defend them selves against any in flight threat -- Give the the good old days any time..
on June 30,2014 | 06:19AM
Larry01 wrote:
No, Gonzalez. First of all, crew are equipped with items that could have been used to deflate the side (you'd be surprised what you can use). Secondly, it was obviously a conscious choice NOT to deflate the slide (the gas used for the inflation is not oxygen and could have poisoned passengers and crew in the cabin). Sorry, but no knives are still for everyone's safety. And remember that the planes on 9/11 were taken over by men with box cutters in the "good old days." The ability for everyone else to carry knives didn't really help that situation, did it?
on June 30,2014 | 07:50AM
Macadamiamac wrote:
on June 30,2014 | 08:04AM
grantos wrote:
freeded lol
on June 30,2014 | 08:46AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I'd rather get stuck inside the toilet rather than outside.
on June 30,2014 | 08:18AM
Larry01 wrote:
Ha, good point!
on June 30,2014 | 10:05AM
cojef wrote:
Deficient maintenance? Airline got too big for effective management of equipment.
on June 30,2014 | 08:32AM
Oh I dont know. I'd like to label it........Sh*t happens!
on June 30,2014 | 09:26AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Yep you got that right - stuff happens.
on June 30,2014 | 09:56AM
I read the headline and tried to imagine the slide being inflated. However, I was imagining it inflating OUTSIDE of the plane. After all, when you see the slide inflated, it is always outside the plane. LOL
on June 30,2014 | 09:25AM
HanabataDays wrote:
"Do not inflate your life vest until after exiting the aircraft. Do as we say, not as we do."
on June 30,2014 | 09:49AM
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