WARSAW, Poland >> A Boeing airliner carrying 231 people from the U.S. landed on its belly Tuesday in Warsaw after its landing gear failed to open, triggering sparks and small fires. No one was hurt, but a relative of a passenger said some on board panicked, crying and bidding final farewells to each other.
The pilots of the Polish LOT airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, discovered a problem with the chassis ahead of touching ground. They circled the 767 above the airport for about one hour before descending without lowering the wheels, said Przemyslaw Przybylski, a spokesman for the Warsaw airport.
LOT spokesman Leszek Chorzewski said the plane landed with nearly empty fuel tanks after dumping fuel in preparation for the emergency landing.
A fire brigade laid out special flame retardant foam for the plane to land on. On landing, sparks flew from the engine and small fires erupted under the plane but were immediately put out by firefighters.
Relatives of passengers waiting at the airport sought information as the emergency unfolded.
Joanna Dabrowska, 29, managed to speak to her mother-in-law, a passenger, via mobile phone after she evacuated the flight. Dabrowska said some of the passengers apparently feared the worst.
"People were saying their final farewells to each other and some were sobbing," Dabrowska told The Associated Press.
Dabrowska was among a group of relatives waiting at the airport in a special room. Her mother-in-law was returning home after a month-long visit in Clinton, New Jersey. According to the mother-in-law, passengers removed their shoes and evacuated the plane using the emergency slide.
"She was in shock, but she was fine," Dabrowska said. She declined to give her mother-in-law’s name because she didn’t have her permission.
Other relatives at the airport would not talk to reporters. One woman whose husband and two sons were on board said she was relieved, but was shaking and declined to give her name or say more.
Passengers were taken to a medical center and were examined by doctors, Przybylski said. Meanwhile, Polish media were declaring the pilot a hero.
LOT airlines president, Marcin Pirog, told reporters that Captain Tadeusz Wrona and co-pilot Jerzy Szwartz carried out a "perfect emergency landing," which prevented anyone from being injured.
"It is the first time a LOT plane had to land without the landing gear out," Pirog said, noting that such landings do not always end well.
Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski congratulated and thanked the crew and emergency workers for ensuring no one was hurt.
"I thank everyone with my whole heart in the name of Poland," Komorowski said.
The airport has been closed until 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Flights which had been scheduled to land in Warsaw have been diverted to Lodz, Gdansk and Krakow.