July 8, 2008

Problem Prompts Unscheduled Landing of Obama Plane Here

By Ken Leiser, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 8--A chartered plane carrying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and others landed safely Monday at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport after the pilot reported a flight-control problem.

Federal investigators promised a comprehensive review of Monday's unscheduled landing that will include a close look at an emergency evacuation slide that partially deployed inside the plane's tail cone.

The Midwest Airlines MD-80 took off from Chicago's Midway Airport and was headed to Charlotte, N.C., where Sen. Obama, D-Ill., was scheduled to participate in a town hall meeting. Some time after takeoff, the pilot reported "a little stiffness in the controls" and diverted to St. Louis as a precaution, said Midwest spokesman Mike Brophy.

"There was never a loss of control," Brophy said.

The Associated Press reported that the pilot experienced a problem keeping the nose of the plane at the proper angle as it was taking off.

The plane landed safely at 9:51 a.m. and was examined at Signature Flight Support, which provides business aviation services at Lambert. No emergency was declared, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory. Lambert emergency crews were standing by as a precaution, airport officials said.

Shortly after the plane landed, workers discovered the emergency evacuation slide had partially deployed inside the tail cone, said Brophy, adding that it may have put pressure on some cables involved in the control of the aircraft. The plane's tail cone was intact, he said.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

The emergency slides are "obviously not designed to deploy while you are in flight," Safety Board Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said. "That is why we are investigating this."

Following the landing, Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, talked to reporters and was asked if he had been frightened.

"Well, you know, any time a pilot says something's not working the way it's supposed to, you make sure you tighten your seat belt," he said.

The plane was taken out of service, Brophy said.

After canceling the Charlotte appearance, Obama remained in St. Louis for several hours and delivered remarks about his plans for the U.S. economy at a hotel near Lambert.

He mentioned Anheuser-Busch Cos., in the speech, saying it would be a "shame" if an overseas company takes over the St. Louis-based brewery. Belgian brewer InBev is seeking to buy Anheuser-Busch.

Obama left St. Louis for Atlanta at about 3 p.m., a campaign spokeswoman said, using a different plane. Obama had appeared in St. Louis on Saturday at the America's Center.


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