Evacuation Slide Opens During United Airlines Flight

Flight 1463 was bound for Santa Ana but diverted to Wichita after the slide inflated in the cabin

An evacuation slide inflated inside a United Airlines plane as it flew from Chicago to California, filling part of the cabin and forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kansas, the airline and passengers said.

Mike Schroeder said he was flying to Orange County, California, late Sunday when he heard a hiss and pop. Schroeder said he turned around and saw the plane's evacuation slide -- which would normally go outside the plane during an emergency -- inflating inside the cabin.

"The first thought I had was, "Gosh, I hope there's no one in the restroom because they're not getting out for some time,'" Schroeder told NBC News. "But fortunately the flight attendants were in the aisles and no one was in the restroom. It just filled the whole area back there up."

United Airlines officials said in a statement Monday that no one aboard Flight 1463 was injured.

"We were descending pretty fast, and it was scary because I wasn't sure if we were going to land safely," passenger Julie Johnson said.

Passengers remained calm and took pictures of the inflated slide with their phones, Schroeder said. The Boeing 737-700 pilot announced to passengers that they would be landing at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport.

"When the pilot came out right after landing he said, 'Oh golly, I've never seen that before,"' Schroeder said.

Christen David, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based airline, told the AP the slide "accidentally deployed" and that all 96 passengers were seated when the slide inflated. The airline provided passengers hotel rooms and planned a flight Monday morning from Wichita to California.

United's maintenance team will inspect the aircraft to find out what happened, David said.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said agency investigators were at the scene in Wichita, but that the investigation would take weeks. She did not have further information.

Several tweets described the mid-air slide deployment. "Scariest flight of all time," Taylor Martinez, a passenger on United Flight 1463, posted to Twitter. 

The Boeing 737 left Chicago at about 8:20 p.m. and was at cruising altitude when a slide at the rear of the cabin inflated.  The pilots put the plane down in Wichita, Kansas shortly after 10:30 p.m.

Such an event is rare but not unheard of. An evacuation slide inflated on board President Barack Obama's plane during his first presidential campaign. That plane, a Midwest Airlines MD-81, left Chicago's Midway International Airport on July 7, 2008 and was en route to Charlotte, North Carolina for a campaign stop when the slide deployed. Pilots put the plane down in St. Louis.

The National Transportation Safety Board in a later report said the slide cover wasn't properly secured to the floor fittings.

Kate Larsen contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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