WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Strong winds from Hurricane Sandy played a major role in an unexpected touch down of a passenger aircraft at Palm Beach International Airport on Thursday. There were multiple problems in the air for the flight that was bound for Fort Lauderdale even before the emergency landing at PBIA.
Flanked by fire trucks and law enforcement and being pelted with wind and rain, Spirit Airlines flight 946 finally touched down at PBIA at about 5:30 p.m.
"The weather was really bad and I noticed we had circled around a couple times," said Andrew Golden, a New York City resident who was on the flight.
The 54 passengers on the flight from Cartagena, Colombia were supposed to be headed to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International. They were almost there, passengers say, when the captain and crew began to alert those on board that there was a problem with the throttle. "We have a problem on engine number two," said Rufino Garcia, a passenger who lives in Miami.
The airline says that engine two had suddenly stopped working. With only one engine, the pilots were unable to land in Fort Lauderdale because of wind gusts.
Passenger Jay Preston of Los Angeles was seated in an exit row when a flight attendant told him to be prepared. "This was the first time I've ever been told to prepare for an emergency landing," said Preston.
That emergency landing occurred at PBIA where winds, at that point, were more calm. The passengers were told to exit the aircraft in West Palm Beach. It was not their intended destination but it was, at least, a safe landing.
"It was very stressful," said passenger Imad Ahmed of Boynton Beach. "But you are happy to make it. You're happy to be alive," he said.
Because this was a surprise international arrival at PBIA, U.S. Customs agents who had gone home for the night had to return to the terminal to properly deplane the passengers, a process that took about three hours. Most of the passengers were then shuttled by bus down to Fort Lauderdale.
No injuries were reported.