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Smoke, Sparks Force Jet To Make Emergency Landing

Thu., Dec. 12, 1996, midnight

A USAir jet with more than 175 people aboard made an emergency landing Wednesday after passengers smelled smoke and saw sparks and flames coming from the back of the plane.

No one was hurt.

“People said from the beginning of the flight there was an electrical-fire smell, and shortly before we landed, there were sparks and flames coming up through the floor,” said passenger Fritz Baumgartner.

Flight attendants ran to the back of the Boeing 757 with fire extinguishers, but most passengers remained calm as the plane landed at the Terre Haute airport.

“Some people were crying and had a rough time,” said another passenger, Melanie Rapp. “I wanted to jump up to the front, but everybody was staying in their seats. And I was impressed at how calm everybody was.”

There were 171 passengers and five or six crew members on Flight 158, which flew out of Phoenix and was headed to Pittsburgh.

Rick Weintraub, spokesman for USAir in Arlington, Va., said the airline does not know what caused the sparks and smoke.

Rapp said passengers smelled smoke from what they believed to be an electrical malfunction before the plane took off. A maintenance worker inspected the plane and the pilot announced everything was in order.

“The smell came back when we were over Indiana,” Rapp said. “It was really strong. And then little sparks started coming out of the back exit.”


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