A World Airways DC10 carrying 343 passengers and crewmembers made an unscheduled landing at Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland on Thursday night after the pilot noticed apparent problems with the plane's tail-wing stabilizers, a World spokesman said. There were no injuries.
It was the same DC-10 in which a flight attendant was crushed to death two weeks ago by a galley lift, senior vice president Brian Cooke said. However, Cooke said there was no relation between that accident -- which has been tentatively blamed on malfunctioning equipment by the National Transportation Safety Board -- and Thursday's landing.
Bound for London, the wide-body jet took off with a full load of passengers from Baltimore-Washington International Airport around 9:30 p.m. Thursday and turned back about 30 minutes later after the problem was noticed. The plane flew to Patuxent because of bad weather at BWI.
Passengers were told to lean forward in their seats and brace themselves as the plane neared Patuxent, a woman aboard the plane said. As rescue units looked on, the plane touched down safely at 11:12 p.m. at the naval facility, located on the Chesapeake Bay about 65 miles southeast of Washington.
Passengers were kept aboard the plane for about 3 hours before disembarking, Cooke said, as a staircase high enough to reach the plane's door was fashioned. Early yesterday morning, the passengers were taken by bus back to BWI, where another World Airways DC-10 was made available for the flight to London.
Cooke said that technicians from the airline and the plane's manufacturer, the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, examined it yesterday at Patuxent.The safety board also assigned a staff specialist to look over the plane, a board spokesman said.
Cooke said preliminary information indicated that the pilot noticed an unspecified condition in the stabilizer which he felt warranted aborting the flight. Cooke was not able to give a cause or to say whether the pilot actually had experienced difficulty controlling the plane or had merely noticed the potential for such a problem.
Stabilizers are control surfaces on the tail wings that are used to point an airplane up or down.
Cooke said the incident was not related to the fatal accident aboard the DC-10 during a flight to London two weeks ago. While attempting to remove a food tray from a lift, a flight attendant was crushed when the lift began to move.
"There's nothing unusual in our view . . . that two events occurred with respect to one airplane," Cooke said yesterday.