SFO-bound plane makes emergency landing in SJ

January 18, 2010 11:36:19 PM PST
Monday's weather created a scary situation for a commercial plane headed for San Francisco International Airport. American Airlines says one of its jets hit a violent weather phenomenon called a microburst and the plane ended up making an emergency landing in San Jose.

It is not often when a pilot flies through a microburst in the Bay Area, but that is what American Airlines says happened to one of its flights.

Flight 1965 left Dallas Monday morning for SFO, when during its approach, encountered a short, intense gust of wind. The pilot believed it was a microburst -- something retired commercial pilot Dick Deeds has experienced several times.

"You get a rapid descent going down and there's not much you can do about it. Usually you get some turbulence and then all of a sudden you get this strong downdraft," says Deeds.

American Airlines says the wind, combined with a minor problem with the plane's throttle, prompted the pilot to make an emergency landing at Mineta San Jose International instead.

The American Airlines plane landed safely. As for the 132 passengers on board, they ended up being bused to SFO.

Microbursts are typically seen in the Midwest and in the South and they can lead to fatal situations. That was the case 16 years ago when U.S. Air Flight 1016 crashed in Charlotte while attempting to land.

However, meteorologist Jan Null says after looking at the data -- it appears the American Airlines jet went through a wind shift brought on by a cold front, not a microburst. Still, the effect on an aircraft is almost identical.

"It's a very tough landing situation, where with the wind shifting, all of a sudden instead of being able to fly into the wind, you have a crosswind. All of those are disruptive and not what a pilot wants to land in," says Null.

By all accounts, the pilot made the right call to land in San Jose where the weather was calmer. It was a decision other pilots may face in the days ahead, as similar weather is expected to hit the Bay Area.