Wednesday 23 August 2017

Hollywood actress penned farewell note to partner as transatlantic flight made emergency landing at Shannon Airport

(left to right) Bombardier worker Brenda Mellon, Catherine Doherty from Derry and Hollywood actress Geraldine Hughes who were seated together on flight UA76 Credit: Lesley-Anne McKeown /PA Wire
(left to right) Bombardier worker Brenda Mellon, Catherine Doherty from Derry and Hollywood actress Geraldine Hughes who were seated together on flight UA76 Credit: Lesley-Anne McKeown /PA Wire
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A Hollywood actress penned a farewell note to her partner as the transatlantic flight she was on made an emergency landing.

The United Airlines service from Belfast to the US was forced to divert to Shannon Airport after pilots raised concerns that the landing gear could not be locked in place for a touchdown.

A United Airlines flight from Belfast to Newark has made an emergency diversion to Shannon Airport. Pic - Flightradar24.com
A United Airlines flight from Belfast to Newark has made an emergency diversion to Shannon Airport. Pic - Flightradar24.com

Flight UA-76 from Belfast International Airport to Newark took off at 11.10am but declared an emergency a short while later and circled over the west coast of Ireland for about two hours to burn off fuel before landing safely just before 2.30pm.

Geraldine Hughes, who starred in Rocky Balboa and Gran Torino and several Broadway shows, revealed she wrote the message on her phone as pilots made the approach to Shannon.

The Belfast-born star said: "It was awful. It is amazing what this sort of situation does, because we knew for two hours that maybe the landing gear wasn't going to work and we kept hearing this noise.

"At a certain point I got through to texting, when we were at a lower altitude, and when my other half texted me, I lost it - I started to cry. The possibility was that we may not make it.

"I wrote him a goodbye note. I composed a goodbye note on the notes section of my iPhone.

"The thing about our life is, I always tell him what I am feeling. And I just thought, 'well I don't want to leave those things unsaid'.

Lesley Anne McKeown with husband Brendan McKeown at Shannon Airport after their plane made an emergency landing Credit: Lesley Anne McKeown/PA Wire
Lesley Anne McKeown with husband Brendan McKeown at Shannon Airport after their plane made an emergency landing Credit: Lesley Anne McKeown/PA Wire

"I didn't send it but I told him I wrote it and he said he doesn't ever want to read that note."

The actress had been visiting family in Belfast - her first non-working visit home in years.

Hughes was one of many passengers who spoke of their relief after the flight touched down safely, and cabin crew were praised for their calm and professional approach to the emergency.

Hughes added: "It's terrible for people who weren't on the flight.

"As soon as we landed my sisters and everybody were texting because it was on the news. But it was awful, really awful.

"At one point they said make sure your passports are in your pocket and we were thinking is that for ID purposes.

"You don't actually realise until you are off the plane and then you think that could have been really bad.

"But the crew were fantastic - I trusted every single one of them that they would take care of us. And it was the smoothest landing ever - it was crazy."

The flight made a low fly-past at Shannon before making a final approach and landing.

Passengers were told to brace for the landing while those sitting at exits had been briefed on how to assist with an evacuation.

The landing at Shannon was described as smooth and uneventful with emergency crews including firefighters stationed on the runway.

The service was subsequently cancelled.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the pilots reported a warning to air traffic control before diverting to Shannon.

Paul Eurich, 47, a member of the US Army, was one of a number of people enlisted by the cabin crew to help in the event of an emergency evacuation on landing.

He was returning home after visiting his daughter in Belfast.

He said: "I was just told about going through procedures of opening the door. I was to go down first and assist people off while another guy stayed up top.

"I was not very worried to be honest. The entire crew were very professional - calm, relaxed and they kept passengers informed and calm. I was happy to help.

The US under-18 women's national soccer team was also on the Boeing 757, returning home after competing in the Women's International Cup in Northern Ireland.

Press Association reporter Lesley Anne McKeown was on board the transatlantic United Airlines flight from Belfast International that was forced to make an emergency landing at Shannon Airport after developing a problem with its landing gear.

Here is her account of the two-hour mid-air drama.

"We were heading to New York for three nights to celebrate my husband Brendan's 40th birthday. I am 29 weeks pregnant and had to get a letter from the doctor to say I was okay to fly.

"Everything was normal with the take-off but shortly afterwards, as the wheels were coming up, we heard an usual sort of noise which was followed by a really loud grinding noise. That persisted for a while and then one of the senior flight officers came over the tannoy and said there was a mechanical problem.

"He said there was 'nothing to worry about...at this point'. When he said 'at this point' I got worried. He said we would hear this noise for the duration of the flight.

"Maybe 20 minutes later the captain came over the tannoy and said there was a problem with the landing gear and that we had turned south and we were heading to Shannon Airport and we were going to have to circle for two hours to burn off fuel because we were too heavy with fuel to land.

"I was concerned and quite worried. Brendan was reassuring me, saying 'there's nothing to worry about, it's fine'. But as time went on you could see the cabin crew speaking to various people. There was a US solider behind us - they spoke to him and asked would he mind sitting at one of the emergency exits and help out in the case of an emergency evacuation.

"They were also briefing everyone sitting at emergency doors on what to do, how to get people out and down the slides. They were also speaking to a number of nurses and doctors who were on board.

"So the atmosphere was tense. People were just worried. They were trying to keep their spirits up but you could see people were worried and scared. This lasted for two hours.

"We had to do a fly-past at Shannon Airport so they could see whether the front wheels were up or down. They confirmed the wheels were down. There was a palpable sense of relief but they still didn't know whether they were in the lock position - whether they could take the impact of the landing.

"Then they had to turn off the cabin pressure - they told us that's why we could feel our ears popping. We came down to 3,000ft and then at 1,000ft they told us to adopt the brace position. Earlier they had showed us how to get into the position. So the cabin crew was shouting 'brace, brace' at us as we came in to land.

"But that's not when I was most frightened. I was most frightened earlier, when they were doing the fly-past. I was holding Brendan's hand and I was holding the hand of the woman beside me - I grabbed her hand. She was on her own so I thought I'll just hold her hand too, even though she was a former US Air Force doctor.

"There was huge relief when we landed. Some people were crying with relief. There was a massive round of applause for the captain and the crew, and they deserved it.

"There were lighter moments in the air. When everyone was trying to keep their spirits up the woman in front of us turned to the woman beside her and said 'at least it's not raining'. Typical Belfast humour."

Belfast Telegraph

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