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Electronics Failure Ends New Orleans-To-SFO United Flight Minutes After Takeoff

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United Airlines New Orleans

A United Airlines jet rests off the runway after blowing a tire during an emergency landing, April, 4, 2011. (CBS)

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisianna (CBS SF) — A United Airlines flight from New Orleans to San Francisco returned to the New Orleans airport within minutes of taking off Monday after rocking back and forth due to a mechanical problem.

The incident came about 12 hours after another Bay Area flight had to be diverted, this one a Southwest Airlines plane headed from Oakland to San Diego on Sunday night, due to a burning electrical smell in the cabin.

United flight 497 took off shortly before 7:10 a.m. from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport with 104 passengers and five crewmembers on board.

But minutes later, the crew reported smoke in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 plane and returned to New Orleans for an emergency landing.

Copilot Ronald Lee Young told an Associated Press reporter aboard the plane that he landed on backup systems, with minimal steering and braking ability, after the plane lost all electronics.

KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:

A pilot can be heard on an air traffic recording, saying about 4 ½ minutes into the flight, that he needed to return to the airport: “… We got a, uh, smoke, uh, issue with the airplane.”

He requested the longest runway. But that runway, just over 1.9 miles long, had been closed Monday for construction work on the shoulder, airport spokeswoman Michele Wilcut said afterward. “You just can’t move construction equipment that fast,” she said.

About 5 ½ minutes in, the pilot states, “We are declaring an emergency. And please roll equipment for our landing, please.”

At 7:13 a.m., 6 minutes after takeoff, the tower asks if the pilot could use a shorter runway, 1.3 miles long.

Minutes later, the pilot radios again, still sounding calm: “We’ve lost all our instruments right now.”

It’s rare to lose the electronics, but backup instruments worked as the plane came to a stop with 2,000 feet to spare after only its nose wheel ran off the pavement, said spokesman Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Immediately after the landing, flight attendants shouted, “Leave everything. Get out!”

Passengers slid down the front and back inflatable slides. A few passengers walked to an ambulance after a call for anyone with injuries. The injuries appeared to be minor, such as abrasions from the slide.

Lunsford said the FAA is investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board issued a statement that it had sent a team and a preliminary report was expected within 10 working days.

Online FAA records show the plane was built in 1994.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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