WEST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — Local passengers are recalling the moments a United Airlines flight headed to Rhode Island was forced to make an emergency landing.
As we’ve reported, United Airlines Flight 4697 from Washington D.C. to Providence was diverted to New York’s JFK Airport Tuesday after reports of smoke in the cockpit.
Michael Lavoie, of West Greenwich, was on the flight. Lavoie said he frequently travels for work, and was in the last leg of his business trip when the plane was diverted.
“Probably about a half hour, 45 minutes into it [the flight], I hear the stewardess on the phone. And, all I hear is ‘New York,'” Lavoie explained. “And that’s when I noticed smoke coming from the front of plane. It was an exhaust, diesel fuel, engine fuel smoke.”
Lavoie said he thought something was wrong even before that. He said boarding was delayed by about 20 minutes because the plane was overheated.
He told us when he saw smoke coming from the cockpit mid-flight, the oxygen masks dropped and crews prepared to land at JFK.
“[I was] a little nervous…” Lavoie recalled.
In the back of the plane, a woman named Lori from Bristol County, Massachusetts told us she was praying as the plane descended. She did not want to share her last name with us.
“I shut the shades because it was happening so fast,” Lori recalled. “As soon as we hit the runway, the plane stopped.”
She said when they landed, emergency crews were waiting. She said when she hopped out of the plane, she began to feel nauseous.
“I needed oxygen, but they still did my blood pressure which was sky high,” Lori said. “And my pulse was like 98-99 beats per minute, so it was extremely high.”
Lori said the oxygen eventually helped her, as she continued to deal with smoke inhalation. She refused to go to the hospital. She was one of three people who were treated for minor injuries following the emergency landing.
Officials told us approximately 50 people were evacuated from the plane. Lori said those passengers were eventually bused to a terminal.
Since United Airlines does not have representation at JFK International Airport, Lori and Michael both said passengers were told they would be bused back to Rhode Island.
Lori said she did not make it back home until 9 p.m. Tuesday night. She sent Eyewitness News a screenshot of an email she received from United Airlines on Wednesday. The airline company offered her miles or a $75 certificate for dealing with the emergency landing. She said she would have settled for better communication after the plane went down.
Lavoie said he did not hear from United Airlines Wednesday like Lori did. He did not take the bus back, but instead, rented a car and drove the almost three hours home to West Greenwich.
United Airlines sent Eyewitness News a statement, apologizing to its customers for the inconvenience, saying the plane experienced a “mechanical issue.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.