FAA acknowledges Obama plane 'emergency'

August 14, 2008 8:53:52 PM PDT
Federal Aviation Administration tapes, obtained exclusively by ABC News, reveal a recent problem with Barack Obama's campaign plane was more serious than first revealed. The pilot of that plane had formally declared an emergency. At that time, the FAA said there was no emergency.

It's now known the pilot feared he couldn't control the plane and asked for fire crews to stand by.

On the tapes released Thursday, you hear the pilot clearly declaring an emergency. That triggered mandatory procedures and makes that flight an absolute priority in the air.

But when it unfolded last month, the plane's owner, Midwest Airlines, said there was never a safety issue. And a spokesperson with the federal aviation administration said the pilot never declared an emergency.

Senator Obama left Chicago and was headed to North Carolina when the pilot of his chartered MD-81 lost control of the jet's up-and-down movement and notified the tower in St. Louis, Missouri.

"We have a controllability issue with this aircraft. We have limited pitch authority at flight levels," the pilot said.

Technically, an emergency evacuation slide had inflated in the plane's tail, affecting the control cables. Seconds later, the pilot formally declared an emergency to St. Louis and asked for CFR - fire crash and rescue equipment. The plane's call sign was Midex 86-63.

"St. Louis approach, Midex 86-63. At this time, we would like to declare an emergency and also have CFR standing by in St. Louis," the pilot said.

"Alright, I will show that and would you have preference on runways. Would you like runway 3-0 right or 3-0 left?" the tower asked.

"Well, which one is longest?" the pilot asked.

"Runway three zero left," the tower responded.

"OK, we'd like three zero left. And just for informational purposes, we have Senator Obama on board the aircraft and his campaign," the pilot said.

"Roger that," the tower responded.

A retired controller told ABC7 that declaring an emergency is a black-and-white issue. So why would the FAA spokesperson say there was not an emergency?

"That's really not being forthcoming or honest on the issue. There is no gray area on whether it was an emergency or whether it wasn't," said one traffic controller.

The plane quickly descended from 32,000 feet, to about 10,000. The pilot regained control and the plane landed, Senator Obama called his wife and commented to reporters.

"Just thought we'd spice things up a little bit today. Don't you think?" Obama said after the landing July 7.

Senator Obama was on vacation and not commenting Thursday night.

An FAA spokesperson acknowledged that the agency was wrong when it declared there was not an emergency. And as far as the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board expects to release a final report in about a year.


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