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Stranded By Northwest, Passenger Takes Car

July 22, 2008

By Jessica Dasilva, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jul. 22–On Sunday afternoon, when Detroit-bound passengers stuck in the Dayton, Ohio, airport, learned their plane’s repairs would take until 6 p.m., Margaret Hedgepeth rented a car and high-tailed it out of there.

Hedgepeth, 37, of Palm Harbor, had had enough.

The Northwest Airlines Tampa-to-Detroit flight had already been delayed half an hour on takeoff. Then, approaching Dayton, passengers heard over the public address that they had to make an emergency landing. Then they put down in the middle of an air show. Then there were questions on when or whether they would take off again.

“When we landed, we were greeted by a firetruck that just kind of stared at us while they looked at the engine,” Hedgepeth said. “No one said anything to us, so we were left to wonder. I was sitting over the wing, so I could see everything.”

She decided to drive to Detroit, thinking she could make the three-hour trip quicker than the plane.

She was right. The other passengers later were put on buses for Detroit and arrived nearly two hours after her.

The plane was forced to land when a computer for one of the engines failed, said Northwest spokeswoman Leslie Parker. The crew shut down the engine and landed as a precaution. The problem with the computer has not been explained, Parker said.

The delay in Tampa had nothing to do with the computer problem, she said. Passengers were told it was a hydraulics problem.

Hedgepeth didn’t like the sound of that.

“You know it’s not good,” she said. “I don’t even know much about cars, and I know that isn’t good.”

Once the plane took off, it was smooth flying with no turbulence. That’s why Hedgepeth was surprised to hear that the plane was making an emergency landing in Ohio.

Passengers began chit-chatting about what could be wrong. Soon after, another announcement was made saying it was not a major emergency.

Flight attendants made sure all baggage was stored properly and that everyone was buckled in and upright.

Once the plane was on the ground, Hedgepeth said, a man in her row exhaled as if he had been holding his breath the whole time. Then he said, “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

Passengers weren’t informed about anything until 30 minutes later when they were allowed to exit the plane around 1 p.m.

Marcy Wright, spokeswoman for Dayton International Airport, said having firetrucks, firefighters and police officers on scene is protocol for emergency landings.

A Northwest Airlines official was present at the airport to explain the condition of the plane to the passengers and hand out food vouchers and vouchers for $25 off their next Northwest flight.

Some passengers stuck around to watch the air show, others became angry when Northwest Airlines wouldn’t release their luggage. Hedgepeth only had one carry-on bag and grabbed it.

There was some confusion in the airport as well, Hedgepeth said. One passenger who didn’t speak English left the airport thinking he was in Detroit only to return about an hour later when he figured it out.

After an hour and a half of waiting, she rented the car.

She said she thought Northwest Airlines handled the problem as best it could. Still, she thought passengers should have been told emergency equipment and personnel would be on the tarmac when they arrived. Not knowing beforehand spooked her.

And she noted that Northwest Airlines would not pay for rental cars.

“I was a little surprised they weren’t more willing to pay for expenses. I didn’t have to worry about it because I’m on business, but a lot of people were traveling on their own money.”

Reporter Jessica DaSilva can be reached at (813) 259-7851 or jdasilva@tampatrib.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

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