45-Hour Delay: Nonstop Plight

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Passengers on an Air India flight endure hours on the tarmac, a mini- revolt and more. Oh, the memories!

By Jennifer Oldham, Times Staff Writer

It started Monday when their first plane blew a tire on takeoff, dumped fuel over the ocean and circled back to Los Angeles International Airport to land in a spray of sparks, shedding 200 pounds of rubber and metal on the runway.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Air India passengers tried again, settling into a different jumbo jet with "Your Palace in the Sky" scrolled in red script near the tail. This time, one of the engines wouldn't start. For about five hours, travelers sat in the sweltering plane. Flight attendants locked up the drinks. Some passengers staged a mini revolt.

Finally, passengers were taken off the plane and bused to a hotel, arriving at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. They overwhelmed the front desk, and some did not get to bed until 4 a.m.

The weary travelers returned to LAX later Wednesday morning for their third attempt, a flight set to depart at 1 p.m. It was pushed back. It was moved up. And finally, around 4:30 p.m., they took off, bound for Frankfurt, Germany, and New Delhi.

All in all, after two nights with little sleep, endless waits in line and three scheduled flights, their ordeal stretched to a 45-hour delay.

"It's been a nightmare," said Jaswinder Toor, a self-employed contractor from Modesto, as he waited in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on Wednesday.

Through it all, an engineer, a psychologist, a man recovering from open-heart surgery, several college professors, an aspiring model and "a Western Master of Eastern Wisdom" got to know each other on a first-name basis.

Some didn't make it to important lectures. Others lost precious vacation days. And a few worried they would miss once-in-a-lifetime family events.

"I want to be at that wedding, otherwise I'll get very mad," said Gursharan Toor, 16, as he stood in line with his family Wednesday morning, a Red Bull in one hand and a fruit juice in the other. "I only have one sister."

The high school junior's journey started early Monday when he, his brother Jaswinder, his brother's wife and their 6-month-old son drove from their home in Modesto to San Francisco to get a visa for the baby.

After a seven-hour drive to LAX, they boarded Air India Flight 136 to New Delhi. As the plane took off, Gursharan said, it shook after a tire burst, startling passengers.

The Boeing 747-400 flew over the ocean and circled, dumped fuel and then returned for a bumpy emergency landing.

The landing gear dug into the runway, leaving a 7,000-foot-long field of debris that took 40 employees hours to clean up.

That night in a hotel, the teenager and his family turned on the news to see footage of their plane landing amid a shower of sparks.

"We're lucky everyone is safe, thank God," Gursharan said.

Airport officials said the pilots made a wise choice to take off, explaining that, if they had aborted, they might not have had enough runway to stop the heavy, fully fueled aircraft.

Jaswinder Toor tried to get the family on a different airline but was told that the next available seats were not until Jan. 15. His sister's wedding is Jan. 8.

On Tuesday, the Toors returned to LAX, loaded with 10 pieces of luggage and wedding presents, to try again.

Flight 136 pushed back from the gate at 8:35 p.m. — 2 1/2 hours late.

As the jet approached the runway, the crew realized that one of the four engines was malfunctioning.