Mon | Jul 15, 2024

Passenger decries 'slap in the face' after 'near-death experience' on Spirit flight

Travellers offered US$50 credit after emergency landing in Mobay, local authorities say probe launched into incident

Published:Tuesday | May 28, 2024 | 12:03 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter -
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 on its return to the Sangster International Airport with emergency services standing by.
1
2
3

On one of the biggest travel weekends for flights to the United States (US), an emergency landing by Fort Lauderdale-bound Spirit Airlines Flight NK270 had passengers in a tailspin as it departed the runway of the Sangster International Airport (SIA) in Montego Bay on Sunday.

After The Gleaner revealed the terrifying experience of the passengers onboard the flight, several international media, including CBS News, picked up the story.

According to several flight tracking websites, the flight, which was scheduled to depart at 12:45 p.m., did so, but within minutes passengers were told to prepare for a possible water landing and life jackets were released and placed on the more than 200 souls on board.

The aircraft eventually returned safely to the tarmac at the SIA and was met on landing by two fire service trucks as the highest emergency protocols were activated.

A close look at www.flightradar24.com shows that the aircraft, on departure, was able to maintain its altitude as it levelled off at 5,000 feet, then descended 2,000 feet to level off again at 3,000 feet.

Andrene Gordon, who was onboard the aircraft, said the ordeal lasted about 25 to 30 minutes, as uncertainty about the emergency landing started to set in which each announcement from the flight crew.

“We first heard a beeping sound and at first I was like, maybe it’s because it’s a new plane," Gordon told The Gleaner on Monday. "We were there for like 25 minutes but the plane never ascended high… . The pilot said there was a slight issue, nothing major, 'so we are just gonna turn back and go to the airport'.

“We never know we would actually make it to the ground because all we were seeing was literal water… it was total chaos. The flight attendants, I know they are trained, but they are human. They got scared, everybody was scared.”

She said she was uncertain whether she would travel on an aircraft again.

“We take it light. We go on aircraft all the time, 'bout we going on trips and whatever. Even sitting on the plane, we don’t pay much attention to what the flight attendants are doing in the beginning with the safety measures that need to be in place. Now it have me looking at it from a different outlook. They are important,” Gordon said, encouraging everyone to remember that their lives are in flight crews' hands.

Gordon said that, up to yesterday, she was still asking herself if she was alive.

“It was such a near-death experience. I literally turned to my boyfriend and said, 'Babes, this is it',” Gordon said of the traumatic experience.

She is encouraging local and international authorities to investigate the Airbus A321 aircraft, similar to how Boeing aircraft were recently probed.

“I think there is more to it. The pilot was trying to downplay it after we landed but we knew it was something more than just a door issue… . We thought we were going to land and then the pilot came back and said, 'This is an emergency, prepare for a water landing, and that is what started the panic… . We were told to get the vest under the seat and some people couldn’t get their vests out,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the most infuriating part of the ordeal is the compensatory offer from Spirit.

"After that near-death experience and emotional distress, Spirit wants to offer US$50 credit to use by August of this year. I feel like that is a slap in the face because they put us through such a traumatic experience with an incompetent crew. That is just so unacceptable,” Gordon told The Gleaner.

Checks by The Gleaner unearthed information that the aircraft, an Airbus A321neo, is just a month old, registered N718NK and powered by Pratt and Whitney engines.

A new aircraft was eventually obtained after the distressing event and passengers departed MBJ at 8:23 p.m., landing in Ft Lauderdale at 10:59 p.m.

The Gleaner was unsuccessful in obtaining a response from Spirit Airlines, however CBS News reported that the airline said in a statement that aircraft returned to its flight origin “following a suspected mechanical issue".

In the statement published by CBS News, Spirit said the passengers were told to put on life vests and prepare for a water landing out of an abundance of caution.

“The mechanical issue did not affect flight safety… . The [aircraft] would be thoroughly investigated by our maintenance team… . We apologise to our guests for any inconvenience,” the statement reportedly read.

CBS News also credited The Gleaner as the original source of the report on the incident.

Delano Seiveright, senior adviser and strategist in the Ministry of Tourism, told The Gleaner that the Government was aware of the emergency situation on Flight NK270.

"We commend the swift and professional response of the Spirit Airlines crew and the airport management, air traffic control and the emergency services at Sangster International Airport in ensuring the safety of all passengers on Flight NK270," Seiveright said. "The safety and well-being of all Jamaicans and visitors are a priority and we are relieved that the situation was resolved. Again we extend our gratitude to all involved in managing the event and reaffirm Jamaica's commitment to maintaining the highest standards of safety and hospitality for travellers to our beautiful island.”

On Sunday, another passenger first told The Gleaner that they were advised that the aircraft had lost pressure.

Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Derby, chairman of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA), told RJR News that a probe had been launched and confirmed that pressurisation problems were experienced by the pilot, who opted to return to the SIA.

The JCAA also said the aircraft in question was still at the SIA up to yesterday and that, when it is determine that all is safe for it to go, it will be released into the airspace for travel.

This past weekend, the Memorial Day weekend, is one of the busiest travel periods in the US.

According to a recent report, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported that five of the top 10 all-time travel days occurred around Memorial Day Weekend, leaving just two dates associated with either Christmas or Thanksgiving.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com