'The Walls are Caving in!' Airline Passengers' Midair Terror
The airline passenger who shot the extraordinary video of a jetliner coming apart in midair is reliving his nightmare flight.
James Wilson says the American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dallas had just taken off when the drama started.
He said, "All of a sudden there was this 'pop, pop, pop' really loud and a ripping sound. And as this is all going on, we were looking around trying to figure out what was going on. It sounded like bowling balls were falling from the overhead bins."
Wilson saw the interior panel actually opening up, exposing what appeared to be insulation.
He said, "The walls were caving in. The guy said, 'Sit down, sit down, we're still climbing.'"
The passengers responded, "No, come back and look at this now!"
Sure enough, flight attendants came back to check on the damage.
"They came back and said, 'Oh my god,' and they start calling up to the flight deck to tell them what was going on. The flight crew brought cell phones to try to take pictures of the damage to give it to the pilot," said Wilson.
But Wilson says the plane flew on for 45 minutes.
The pilot made an announcement that failed to reassure the passengers.
He said, "I understand by row 14 something came off. In the cockpit we have normal indications of pressurization."
Wilson thought this was the end.
He went to Facebook while in the air and wrote, "Plane looks like it buckled in half at row 14. Please call [my wife] ASAP," and, "Seriously someone please call right now."
Finally, the pilot saw the damage for himself.
Wilson said, "He went back to the cockpit and came on the PA and said, 'We're declaring an emergency. We're doing an emergency landing. We're going back to SFO.'"
Speaking to air traffic control, the pilot said, "We had a problem on takeoff with a pressurization problem."
Air traffic control responded, "American 2293, are you declaring an emergency?"
"Just a precaution, we're going to go back to San Francisco," said the pilot.
"We were trying to figure out, why don't we land now? I don't know where we are but let's get this done now," said Wilson.
As they approached San Francisco Airport, the pilot flew low and asked the tower to see if there was any visible damage.
"I'd like to clear the active runway. Have a look at me real quick on the left and right side of the airplane," he said to San Francisco tower.
The plane, with 190 souls on board, landed safely.
American Airlines said in a statement the problem was caused by a possible blown air duct, adding there was no loss of pressure in the cabin. In the meantime, the FAA says the plane will 'not' fly again until the problems on the jet are fully investigated and corrected.