Emergency landing prompts questions about airport emergency protocol


BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) – New questions are being asked about passenger security after an emergency landing of an American Airlines flight at the Birmingham Airport sent fliers spilling onto a tarmac with other planes still preparing for takeoff.

An American Airlines flight reported smoke in the cabin and made an emergency landing at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport Tuesday morning at 6:15 a.m. Passengers were instructed to exit the plane onto the tarmac and leave all their belongings behind. New video obtained by CBS 42 from a passenger on board the flight shows the 79 passengers and 4 flight crew members standing on a tarmac with another plane taxiing yards away.

“This jet just taxied right between us and the tarmac,” said Vance Williamson, passenger on board, with over 60 trips on American Airlines in 2017. “This is the first time that I’ve ever had an emergency landing.”

The Birmingham Airport Emergency Protocol states the airport has limited parking for diverted aircraft, they don’t own or operate equipment needed to safely deplane passengers in these situations, and says airport personnel are not properly trained to handle deplaning passengers from emergency landings.

Birmingham Airport Officials were not available for an interview Friday.

Williamson says officers on the scene told him that the air traffic control tower is incapable of making contact with emergency response teams on the ground. Despite that, Birmingham Fire Rescue says they responded efficiently to ensure everyone was safe.

“We’re there 24 hours a day. We were there before the plane was there. That’s how good our response time is,” said Battalion Chief Kenneth Hatcher with Birmingham Fire Rescue.

Williamson added, “I think we were very lucky that someone didn’t get hurt. That would be horrible.”

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