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Old 06-03-2002, 06:24 PM
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Default Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Come Out!

Problems with Boeing 737 Rudder Control Power Units Solved?

May 30, 2002

Last modified May 30, 2002 - 12:21 am

Rudder unit blamed for United scare

Of The (Billings, MT) Gazette Staff

United Airlines has determined the cause of the problems on flight 443 Saturday was a rudder power control unit, United spokesperson Joe Hopkins said Wednesday.

The 737 was traveling from Denver to Billings with 131 passengers when it began a series of violent movements. Passengers stayed in the "brace" position - head to the knees and hands grasping the ankles - for more than 30 minutes while the plane jerked up and down and side to side. The pilot told passengers over the intercom that the problem was with the jet's hydraulics. After two attempts, the pilot was able to land the plane successfully.

"The aircraft experienced what the pilots called a rudder vibration problem," Hopkins said. "The plane made a normal landing and there were no injuries."

Hopkins said United mechanics flew to Billings Saturday, examined the aircraft and flew it empty to Denver where they swapped out the "rudder power control unit - the device that provides power to the rudder," he said.

They put a new PCU in the jet and the plane is back in service, he said. They took the old PCU to the United shop in Indianapolis to see if it is defective. No report has been issued on the PCU. He added he doesn't know if the incident has been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Transportation Security Board.

Meanwhile, the stress of the flight is waning and passengers are beginning to demand an apology.

Alan and Doris Ricketts were returning to Billings from their granddaughter's graduation in Colorado Springs.

"The flight was fine until we began descending into Billings," said Doris Ricketts, 68. She described the plane as moving up and down and sideways. The pilot said over the intercom that the plane was having problems with its hydraulic system.

"Then the stewardess came on the intercom and said we have three minutes to prepare for a crash landing. You could hear the terror in her voice," she said.

Greg Ryan, 40, is a Billings native who lives in Tulsa, Okla., and was traveling for a family visit.

"The lead stewardess was on the microphone, running up and down the aisles and was very upset. She probably did a good job getting her point across to get everyone in the brace position, but it obviously was not an ordinary thing. I think this was a lot closer deal than we think."

Wes Hazen, of Billings, was returning from back surgery in Denver. He had a seat in first class "right by the window. The plane swung to the right, then hitched to the left and I was looking straight at the ground. We were so close to the ground that I could distinguish the texture of things on the ground. The plane was twisting in a corkscrew fashion. The pilot himself, you could hear the fear in his voice. And they say nothing happened? Come on."

Alan Ricketts, 70, is a retiree with a heart condition. He said Wednesday was the first time he could talk about the flight without tears coming to his eyes.

He went to the United Airlines ticket counter at Billings Logan International Airport Wednesday to ask if the airline had any response to the flight. He said he was given an 800 number and an e-mail address.

"United owes all of us passengers a letter of apology," Doris Ricketts said. "At least they could have the courtesy to send us a letter."

Hazen agrees.

"They owe everybody an apology, and a heartfelt one, not just a cover-up to make them feel better."

"It was a horrible experience," Ryan said, "but I don't know what compensation we would get, if any. They did get us here safely, but I think we're owed an explanation."

Hopkins said United will be writing a letter.

"Obviously, no one was injured, but the cabin was prepped for a possible emergency landing, which happens from time to time.

"For those passengers for whom we have addresses, a letter will go out explaining our commitment to safety and the well-being of our passengers."

Will the passengers receive any sort of compensation?

"I don't think so," Hopkins said. "It's a judgment call. The plane landed safely. There weren't any injuries. I'm not aware of any compensation being planned."

"You know the worst part of it?" asked Alan Ricketts. "We have paid, nonrefundable tickets to fly to Seattle on June 7. You know, we're not too keen on it."

Ryan takes the long view.

"I figure now that this has happened to me, I'm pretty safe. Most people don't go through this in their life."
T. D. Ponder
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