Plane stranded overnight with full toilet, no food
US official blasts 1 airline involved
MINNEAPOLIS - Continental Express Flight 2816 smelled like diapers. It had no food and a full toilet. Its 47 passengers had been stranded on the tarmac in southern Minnesota since after midnight.
“They are getting really upset, you know, with the plane,’’ the captain told her dispatcher just before 3 a.m. on Aug. 8.
Recordings released yesterday of conversations among the captain, dispatcher, and staff for another airline at the airport in Rochester, Minn., expose a breakdown that kept the plane sitting on the tarmac for almost six hours for no clear reason and triggered a Department of Transportation investigation.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released the recordings along with conclusions from his department’s investigation exonerating ExpressJet, the regional carrier that operated the flight for
Instead, he criticized Mesaba Airlines - which was in charge because it had the only employees left at the airport - for refusing to let the passengers inside the terminal because all security personnel had left for the night.
“There was a complete lack of common sense here,’’ LaHood added. “It’s no wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated.’’
The plane left Houston at 9:23 p.m. Aug. 7 and was scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis by midnight. Instead, severe thunderstorms forced air controllers to divert the plane south to Rochester, where it landed about 12:30 a.m.
It received clearance to take off at 2 a.m., but the storms started again. The captain called dispatchers in Houston 45 minutes later.
When dispatch called back 12 minutes later, she asked if a bus was coming to take passengers to Minneapolis, about 85 miles away. Dispatch said flash flooding had made the roads impassable.
The recordings indicated that dispatchers were trying to persuade officials for Mesaba, a unit of
Just after 4 a.m., about four hours into the ordeal, passenger Eleanor Thatcher said she remembered one of her husband’s former high school students was Steven Leqve, manager of the Rochester airport. She said she called his home.
“I wanted him to know what was going on,’’ she said, adding that Leqve agreed to come to the airport.
At 5 a.m., the flight got clearance again. But by then, its crew had worked more than the legal limit of hours. Another crew had to be flown in.
Passengers were kept waiting until 6 a.m. before they could enter the terminal. It took another 2 1/2 hours for the passengers to reboard the same plane - still with a full, smelly toilet - to head to Minneapolis. They landed at 9:15 a.m., almost half a day after leaving Houston.
Mesaba chief executive John Spanjers said he disagreed with the department’s conclusions, which do not match his airline’s understanding of the event.
Leqve reiterated on Friday that the passengers could have come into the terminal at any time. “The aircraft did eventually come to the building,’’ he said. “And the passengers were offloaded.’’
Continental has issued each passenger a refund for the flight, a $200 travel voucher, and a $50