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5875: Jetliner ordeal ends with one death (fwd)
Tuesday, November 21, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Jetliner ordeal ends with one death
Travelers endure panic in Miami
BY SANDRA MARQUEZ GARCIA AND LUISA YANEZ
Passengers aboard a Haiti-bound American Airlines flight on Monday
described seven minutes of terror that ended with a crew member
catapulting to his death. With fire alarms blaring and oxygen masks
dangling, passengers aboard Flight 1291 watched as flight attendants
struggled to open the doors of the Airbus A300 after an emergency
landing at Miami International Airport. With each passing
moment, passengers said the mounting cabin pressure created a crushing
sensation, leading some to believe the aircraft might explode.
``All the stewardesses were shouting, `The doors cannot open' '' said
Nicole Doura, 45, who trembled as she described the landing to
relatives. ``When the doors wouldn't open, everyone started screaming.''
From her vantage point in seat 12F, Doura said she watched as a male
flight attendant, who pried open one of the doors, was flung about 20
feet to the tarmac below. ``Everyone cried,'' she said. ``Everyone
screamed.'' The flight attendant was identified as Jose Chiu, 34, a
10-year American Airlines employee based at New York's John F. Kennedy
International. Chiu was serving as the flight's purser -- the lead
flight attendant on board the plane -- and was seated at the forward
door on the left hand side, said Douglas Newlon, Miami spokesman for the
Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union for American
Airlines' flight attendants. He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial
Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. ``Mr. Chiu was a valued American
Airlines employee and will be sorely missed by the people at this
airline,'' said American Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive
Donald J. Carty. There were 121 passengers on board and nine crew
members. During the evacuation, some people began shoving and pushing.
Those who didn't know how to use the chutes went head first, witnesses
said. Four people were immediately hospitalized after the evacuation and
at least nine others were later treated for cuts, scrapes and sprains.
Aviation experts speculated Monday that the flight attendant may have
opened the door before the plane was fully depressurized. Airbus A300
doors are equipped with a lever to arm and disarm the evacuation
chutes. When a plane is ready for departure, the flight attendants arm
the doors, setting the evacuation chutes so that they will automatically
deploy in an emergency, said Airbus Industrie spokesman David Venz. Upon
arrival at the gate, the flight attendants disarm the doors to disable
the chutes. Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for the airline in Miami, said
Flight 1291 took off from Miami International Airport at 11:49 a.m.
Minutes after takeoff, an emergency light came on in the cockpit
indicating a possible engine fire. ``Everybody was having problems with
their ears and the pilot said we were losing pressure and we had to turn
back, but that it was nothing serious,'' John
Lemnitzer, 56, a Lutheran minister and missionary from Phoenix, told
The Herald. As the pilot returned to Miami, Lemnitzer said, passengers
remained calm. Then alarms went off and the pilot announced that smoke
was coming out of a bathroom. ``The attendants were running up and down
the aisles trying to keep everyone calm,'' he said. The pilot made an
emergency landing at 12:17 p.m. Although Miami-Dade Fire
Rescue officials said there was no evidence of a fire aboard the
aircraft, at least four passengers said they smelled smoke.
Lemnitzer, who was sitting near one of the plane's wings, said
everything went well until it was time to get off the plane.
``The pilot came on and said everyone had to sit down, that they had to
prepare for emergency procedures,'' he said. ``Then we heard the flight
`The doors won't open!' It looked like they couldn't open them
manually. ``That's when passengers began to panic,'' Lemnitzer said.
``Suddenly, we heard a boom! and the hatch blew from a door, the one
you use to walk into the plane. Smoke came up around the cockpit. We
didn't know what was happening, but they told us to go to the middle of
the plane to slide down the chute,'' he said. ``As we slid down, we saw
there was a man, a flight attendant, lying on the tarmac in a pool of
Lemnitzer said passengers refused to slide down. ``Some were hurt when
they did,'' he said. ``It was crazy.' Passengers were taken to a local
hotel, Pantin said, and are expected to be flown to Haiti today.
``I don't know if I want to go,'' Doura said. The Haiti-bound aircraft
was not the only South Florida flight to encounter trouble
Monday. A Delta flight leaving Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International
Airport had to abort its takeoff just before 8 a.m. when smoke was
detected from an engine. No one was hurt.
Herald staff writers Ina Paiva Cordle and Johnny Diaz contributed to