Passenger Nick Janovsky realized something was amiss with Allegiant Air Flight 872 when he witnessed a scene that seldom occurs on a commercial aircraft cruising at 30,000 feet:
Flight attendants, looking upset, running in the cabin.
The crew told passengers they were making an emergency landing. Within minutes, the aircraft descended so abruptly and rapidly that children in the cabin began to wail. "Everybody was just freaking out," Janovsky said.
Flight 872, which departed St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport at 8:19 a.m. Friday bound for Omaha, Neb., made an emergency landing in Birmingham, Ala., because the crew noticed an unusual electrical odor, Allegiant told reporters. Janovsky said the crew told passengers the emergency was caused by "the smell of an electrical fire."
The Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating, said in a written statement the crew reported "smoke in the cockpit."
The aircraft, a 27-year-old MD-83, landed safely at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport with 153 passengers and six crew members. No injuries were reported.
The incident is the latest in a string of much-publicized emergency landings by the low-cost, Las Vegas-based airline that included five emergency landings on Florida flights in the last week of 2015. Allegiant aircraft made three emergency landings at St. Pete-Clearwater, one of the busiest airports on its schedule, during one month in the summer.
Allegiant, which did not respond to a request for comment by the Tampa Bay Times, told other media outlets passengers would receive a $100 voucher for future travel on the airline. The airline has said it is one of the safest in the industry.
Janovsky, 34, a St. Petersburg resident who is a real estate agent and a political consultant, was flying to visit family. A veteran flier, he was on his first Allegiant flight.
Seated in row 18 toward the front of the aircraft, Janovsky said he could not smell anything unusual at the time the emergency was declared, but he said other passengers in the back of the plane noticed the odd odor.
The plane, he said, shuddered uncomfortably during the rapid descent. At some point, all electricity to the passenger cabin appeared to go out. The small fans above passengers' heads stopped working, and even the seat belt sign went out. Flight attendants communicated with passengers using handheld megaphones rather than the plane's public-address system.
In about 10 minutes, the aircraft landed and stopped on the runway. Janovsky said he saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles surround the plane. Passengers, however, were not taken off. The crew said little to passengers as they waited for 20 minutes.
"That was a problem," he said. "Everybody assumed the airplane was on fire."
One passenger unbuckled her seat belt, Janovsky said, when a flight attendant yelled at her to sit down.
Passengers were frightened, Janovsky said, and some talked about opening the emergency doors themselves to get out of the aircraft. In they end, they decided against it.
Janovsky said the plane finally taxied to a gate, but he said it took another 30 minutes before passengers were allowed off.
As he walked off the aircraft into the terminal, Janovsky said he smelled the strong odor of something electrical burning. "It was like a hair dryer on fire," he said.
The flight, he noted, would be his last on Allegiant. "It was terrifying," he said. "Allegiant's like the Russian roulette of the skies."
A replacement aircraft from St. Pete-Clearwater flew to Birmingham to take the passengers to Nebraska several hours later.
Before leaving Alabama, Allegiant offered passengers a treat for their trouble — free pizza.
Same aircraft made emergency landing less than 2 months ago in Chattanooga: http://www.wvtm13.com