CHICAGO (MCT) — Just a day after American Eagle mechanics gave a clean bill of health to a plane that had made an emergency return to O’Hare International Airport because of a landing gear problem, the same aircraft was forced to turn around in flight and land at O’Hare again on Thursday because of a similar issue, but this time it veered off the runway, airline and federal aviation officials said.
No passengers were injured in either incident, both of which are under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Nose-wheel problems are the primary focus, officials said, adding that the pilots involved in the incidents on Wednesday and Thursday reported that the Embraer ERJ-145 regional jet pulled hard to the right after the plane landed and was braking on the runway.
Both pilots also reported to air-traffic controllers an “unsafe gear indication” warning light on the cockpit display, according to sources at O’Hare.
American Airlines, which along with American Eagle is owned by AMR Corp., confirmed that the pilots decided to return to O’Hare “because of an indicator light.”
Asked how the same aircraft could be involved in two similar incidents two days in a row, after airline mechanics signed off the plane to re-enter passenger service, American spokesman Matt Miller said: “As maintenance issues arise we address them, and unfortunately, this aircraft had similar issues on two consecutive days. The aircraft was thoroughly inspected and determined to be airworthy before it was put back into service this morning. It’s now in our hangar at O’Hare, where our maintenance team is working diligently to address the issue.”
The emergency landings marked the third incident involving an American Eagle commuter plane at O’Hare in two days. Also on Wednesday, another Eagle plane was clipped by a 747 cargo plane on a taxiway.
FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said part of the investigation into the landing gear problem will be to look into the history of the aircraft.
FAA service-difficulty reports examined by the Chicago Tribune list numerous cases of problems related to the nose-wheel steering system on ERJ-145s dating to at least 2001. Some of the records referred to “uncommanded swerving” during high-speed taxiing, takeoff and landing.
The sources said that just before Thursday’s landing, the pilot conducted a fly-by, flying low over the runway to let personnel on the ground try to see whether the landing gear was deployed and locked correctly. When the plane landed, smoke was seen around the nose wheels, which apparently put a scare into some of the 28 passengers on board the aborted flight from O’Hare to Tulsa, Okla.
The plane veered off the right side of Runway 10 and “touched the grass” before returning to the pavement near an intersecting runway, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
“It seemed like a normal landing, but when we came in, you know, it hit the ground and just veered off,” said Kyle Carmea of Tulsa. “There was some bouncing through a bunch of stuff. We just narrowly missed … a bunch of stuff.”
Ken Petruck, from Chicago, was heading to the University of Tulsa for his Kappa Sigma fraternity reunion. “I could see the sod being sucked up from the ground, the engines were reversed so hard,” Petruck said. “And we stopped just short of the barrier.”
The object Petruck saw was a ground-based antenna for an intersecting runway, a source said. The antenna provides precision guidance to pilots approaching and landing on the runway.
“The pilot did a really good job to keep the plane safe by avoiding the antenna and a (nearby) tunnel under the runway for service vehicles,” the source said.
The passengers left the plane via stairs and were bused to a gate, where they transferred to another plane bound for Tulsa, American Eagle officials said.
In Wednesday’s emergency return to O’Hare, the plane was bound for Hartford, Conn., the airline said.
(WGN-TV reporter Nancy Loo contributed to this report.)