Emergency crews at Pearson International Airport and local Toronto media were preparing for the worst.
Air Canada Express flight AC7515 had a malfunction in one of its engines and had been circling the city for around an hour and a half Wednesday afternoon. It was being diverted from the Toronto Islands’ Billy Bishop airport to Pearson for an emergency landing.
Word from police and Air Canada personnel on the ground was that it was also suffering some kind of hydraulic problem. In fact, the plane’s landing gear was failing.
But inside the cabin of the small, twin-engine Dash 8, the mood wasn’t panic, but unusual calm. It says something about human nature in an emergency.
Anna Coatsworth, who works for an asset-management firm and flies weekly, was seated near the front of the cabin. She describes a scene in which the 24 passengers were mostly all buckled up and sitting quietly, readying themselves for the unknown.
“I think people were initially, like, ‘Crap, what’s happening?’ But then the pilot came on and said, ‘These planes are more than capable of flying with one engine through all stages of the flight, and we’re trained on how to deal with this,’” Ms. Coatsworth said. “There was one woman who really wanted to understand what was going on and was quite visibly shaken. People were calming her down. But the crew was really great.”
Roughly above the towns of Whitby, Ont., or Cobourg, approximately 50 to 100 kilometres east of Toronto, the passengers noticed that the turboprop engine on the right wing had stopped.
“The flight attendant saw it. She looked at it, and immediately went up to the front, sat down, put on her seat belt, and then was on the phone with the pilot,” Ms. Coatsworth said. The pilot then explained to the passengers that he had to shut down the engine due to an oil problem, Ms. Coatsworth remembered.
Dash 8s are certified to fly with only one engine, and the exact cause of the malfunction is still under investigation, said a spokeswoman for Sky Regional, the company that operates that Air Canada Express flight, which originated in Moncton, N.B., with a stopover in Montreal, before proceeding to Toronto.
“Quite frankly, at one point in the whole thing, we were just joking around because all of us had to go to the bathroom, and we couldn’t get up,” Ms. Coatsworth said. Everyone had to stay buckled in.
The plane was preparing to land, but then the passengers noticed they were circling back around the city and Lake Ontario. The pilot then explained that there was another malfunction, and he was in contact with maintenance specialists on the ground. Only later, after circling for over an hour, did he reveal to the passengers that they had been determining the best backup method to use to lower the landing gear, which hadn’t properly dropped.
Finally, the problem was solved, the plane landed without incident, and fire trucks and maintenance crews greeted it on the runway.
On board, there were no cries of relief or hurrays. “People were just relieved. No clapping. People were just joking around,” Ms. Coatsworth said.
Since the incident, “when people hear about it, they are, like, ‘That must have been pretty scary?’ And I’m like, naw. I think if they had told people about the landing gear before they resolved that, it would have created a lot more tension.”
She added: “It was by no means like a scene from a movie, other than it was pretty calm and the crew was good.” Does this discourage her from flying again? “No, I’ll get on another plane Monday morning.”