A Southwest flight headed to Chicago experienced some maintenance issues Wednesday morning, the airlines stated, and landed safely back in Oakland where it had originated from four hours later.
The Southwest Flight 2547 landed back at Oakland International Airport shortly after 10 a.m. local time, according to FlightAware and NBC Bay Area's chopper overhead. Shortly beforehand, the plane descended to about 375 feet and flew by the tower in Oakland so air traffic controllers could visually inspect the landing gear.
NBC Bay Area caught up with the plane after it touched down, and spoke with passengers, many of whom seemed both shaken up and elated at the same time.
"We were all clapping and crying," said Ashley Stasio of San Francisco, who was on her way to visit her parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
She explained that passengers didn't realize what was going on for some time. "But three hours in," she said, "I knew something wasn't right."
Once the flight attendants and pilots told the people on board what was happening, and that they had to stay in the air to burn fuel, Stasio said that "people started to panic at the end. You never know if they are telling you the truth."
She said the woman next to her was crying, others were holding hands and scores of passengers were on their phones. "I'm sure they were sending messages to loved ones," Stasio said.
"I don't mean to sound dramatic," she added. "But it was scary."
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the flight had to return to Oakland due to a "landing gear issue" and was burning off fuel over the Central Valley for several hours in the morning. The Southwest media team said in an email that the flight departed Oakland about 6 a.m. for Chicago Midway with 139 passengers onboard.
After takeoff, the captain in command made the decision to return to Oakland to check a maintenance item on the aircraft, Southwest said.
"Safety is of paramount importance," Southwest added in a statement. "We appreciate our customers’ patience while we work to get them to their final destinations for the holiday."
Firefighters responded with one truck and four engines to the airport in case the plane caught on fire when it landed, a fire dispatcher said.
Stasio said she's going to travel on Thursday to see her parents, as she's not ready to get on a plane so soon after what happened.