Minutes into flight, Airbus returns to La. airport

KENNER, La. (AP) — First there was a report of smoke in the cockpit shortly after the Monday morning takeoff. Then the pilot of United Airlines Flight 497 from New Orleans to San Francisco reported instruments had stopped working, even as he requested a runway for his return.

Less than 13 minutes after its departure, the Airbus 320 landed with all 100 passengers and five crew of Flight 497 safely at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said.

Copilot Ronald Lee Young told an Associated Press reporter aboard the plane that he landed on backup systems, with minimal steering and braking ability, after the plane lost all electronics.

A pilot can be heard on an air traffic recording, saying about 4 1/2 minutes into the flight, that he needed to return to the airport: “... We got a, uh, smoke, uh, issue with the airplane.”

He requested the longest runway. But that runway, just over 1.9 miles long, had been closed Monday for construction work on the shoulder, airport spokeswoman Michele Wilcut said afterward. “You just can’t move construction equipment that fast,” she said.

About 5 1/2 minutes in, the pilot states, “We are declaring an emergency. And please roll equipment for our landing, please.”

At 7:13 a.m., 6 minutes after takeoff, the tower asks if the pilot could use a shorter runway, 1.3 miles long.

Minutes later, the pilot radios again, still sounding calm: “We’ve lost all our instruments right now.”

It’s rare to lose the electronics, but backup instruments worked as the plane came to a stop with 2,000 feet to spare after only its nose wheel ran off the pavement, said spokesman Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Immediately after the landing, flight attendants shouted, “Leave everything. Get out!”

Passengers slid down the front and back inflatable slides. A few passengers walked to an ambulance after a call for anyone with injuries. The injuries appeared to be minor, such as abrasions from the slide.

Lunsford said the FAA is investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board issued a statement that it had sent a team and a preliminary report was expected within 10 working days.

Online FAA records show the plane was built in 1994.

Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

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