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Training, demeanor help pilot pull off perfect landing

Experts call emergency landing 'textbook'

SAN ANTONIO – Monday's emergency belly landing at San Antonio International Airport had local flight instructors singing the praise of the pilot.

"Textbook landing for a belly-landing," said Hameed Afzal, chief instructor at Alpha Tango Flying Services. "He did everything by the book, reduced his fuel load, and finally came and did the landing."

Afzal said a plane's landing gear malfunctioning is like a car blowing a tire, but being on the road is vastly different than being a couple of thousand feet up in the air. Afzal said that's why pilots train numerous hours to handle such situations.

"Eighty percent of the training is critical altitudes and emergencies. Any time they fly an airplane of that caliber with retractable gears, (where) the gears go up and down, they are put through a lot of stress and training to train them for exactly this (type of situation)," Afzal said.

During the landing, there were no visible sparks or smoke. Sky 12 pilot Michael Welborn, who had a bird's-eye view of the mid-air emergency, said the only thing that may have been better than the landing was the pilot's demeanor.

"He kept his cool. Every time I heard him talk on the radio, he was very calm. He asked questions of the tower, the tower was asking questions of him. He answered in a very professional manner," Welborn said.

The plane circled the airport for more than an hour, burning off as much fuel as possible before the belly-landing. Welborn said the pilot was so confident that just before cutting the plane's electricity he told air traffic controllers that he would speak to them on the ground. It was a promise that the pilot was able to keep.

"He just kept calm throughout the whole thing. I'm sure part of that is you keep calm your passengers keep calm," Welborn said. "You always pray for the best and he got the best."