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All shook up

While First Air officials aren't saying much until the safety inspection hits their desks, passenger's aboard Tuesday's First Air flight to Yellowknife didn't hesitate to describe how it felt when the 737 they were on made a hard landing at the Yellowknife airport.

Phil Duffy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 25/01) - Tuesday afternoon's Flight 956 from Edmonton had many of the 98 passengers fearing for their lives as the 737 bounced twice on the runway before making a hard landing at the Yellowknife airport.

"I feared the worst," admitted Jill Gale, a passenger en route to Inuvik. Gale's husband is a pilot. She said when the plane first hit the runway she knew something was wrong.

"There were a few seconds after the initial impact and bounce where I thought they had lost control of the airplane and we were going to start tumbling end over end," she told Yellowknifer.

Jason Vogt, a frequent flyer who lives in Edmonton, used a digital camera to capture the oxygen masks that were deployed upon the first impact.

"It seemed to me we were approaching the ground a little quicker than normal. It felt like we hit ground on all three points but when we bounced back up I could feel the pilot losing control. We actually began to slew sideways a little before the pilot regained control and touched down for the second time," said Vogt.

The second bounce was quite soft, but the final impact was the hardest.

"The final touchdown was the one that did all the damage. We nose dived in, touching down on only the forward landing gear at first, and this is when one of the tires blew and the fuselage was bent," said Vogt.

After the plane came to a halt a flight attendant apologized for the rough landing and told everyone to remain seated with their belts on.

"A few seconds later the pilot came on the speaker and claimed that a gust of air was to blame," said Vogt.

First Air spokesperson Tracy Beeman said she couldn't answer any questions about the cause of the hard landing, the damages, repair costs or how long repairs to the 26-year-old plane would take. She said the company is waiting until the transportation safety board completes its investigation.

The 53,071-kilogram plane has had its certificate of registration cancelled until the board's investigation and repairs are completed.

Jim Harris, a spokesperson for the safety board said it was too soon to comment on the investigation.

"The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been sent to Ottawa for analysis, and until such time as we have all the facts we really can't speculate on the specifics," said Harris.

"It is my understanding that the co-pilot was in control of the landing procedure. This is not an unusual practice among airline crews," he said.

No one was injured during the landing and First Air paid for the rooms and meals for the passengers during their unscheduled layover.

"First Air was very accommodating as far as paying for our stay," said Vogt.

"They even extended our check out time for today (Wednesday) because the Canadian Airlines flight we were supposed to be transferred over to at 10:45 this morning had mechanical problems."

Not everyone was as easily satisfied over the handling of the incident.

"I had to pay an extra $56 to have my luggage transferred over to the other plane," said passenger Stuart Fedak.

"I'm self-employed so it's costing me a fair amount of money for the time I'm spending in Yellowknife right now."