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Delta Scare: Pilot Praised as "Our Capt. Sully"

No one was hurt Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010 when Delta Connection Flight 4951, operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, diverted and made an emergency landing at JFK International Airport, due to a malfunctioning landing gear.
CBS
Updated 2:33 p.m. ET

Passengers on a disabled jet that was forced to make an emergency landing are happy to be alive today, and have praised their pilot as "Our Captain Sully."

Delta Flight 4951 from Atlanta to White Plains, N.Y., was diverted to John F. Kennedy International Airport Saturday night after the pilot informed the control tower the right landing gear was not working. "The right gear is stuck up; The other two are down," he said.

The plane, a Bombardier CRJ 900 twin-engine jet operated by Delta regional carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines, was carrying 60 passengers and 4 crewmembers.

After being assigned a runway for the emergency landing, the plane's pilot said to air traffic control: "4951, Roger, and, uh ... this better work."

The New York Daily News identified the pilot as 55-year-old Jack Conroyd, a retired Navy flyer from Lake Mary, Fla. His co-pilot was 33-year-old Larkin Newby.

Firefighters and rescue crews stood by in fear of the plane exploding into a fireball. This was a call from the crew to the tower: "Rescue One, there are 64 souls on board and 3,000 pounds of fuel."

Watch Complete Video From Flight 4951

The cabin was tensely quiet on its approach, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, when the pilot uttered this ominous warning: "Brace for impact."

Cell phone video shows passengers huddled and praying, a few sobbing, as a flight attendant ordered them to assume the crash position.

She urgently repeated the command: "Heads down, stay down, heads down, stay down, heads down, stay down."

"I've never prayed so hard in my whole life," Loretta Hill, 39, of Milford, Conn., told the Daily News. "I was just crying and praying to God that we would be okay."

At 8:20 p.m. the pilot balanced the jet on the left wheel, then eased it onto the right wing to slow it down. The wing dragged along the runway, generating a shower of sparks.

"When those sparks were flying," Robert Bourdeau said, "it was definitively scary."

"Here is the crash position, heads down here, and I'm holding the camera in my phone - not trying to get quality image," said passenger Chase Benzenberg. "I don't know if we are going to slam and go crazy, so I'm not looking up."

Benzenberg's co-worker Alessandro Albero, across the aisle and closest to the wing where all the trouble was, used his camera phone.

"I couldn't keep my head down," Albero said. "I saw the sparks and it lit up my entire face."

The aircraft was safely brought it to a stop. Passengers were hurried off the plane, filing past police and specially trained firefighters who were at the ready, but not needed.

Albero said, "Every day is a fresh start; every day is a new day."

Authorities don't know why the jet's landing gear got stuck, but the National Transportation Safety Board has been called in to investigate.

One aviation expert said the skillful acts of the pilot prevented what could have been disaster.

It's a landing many are already comparing to the U.S. Airways "Miracle on the Hudson" from January 2009, when Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger ditched his plane in the river after losing power in both engines, saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew.

"He was our 'Capt. Sully,'" passenger John Predham told the Daily News. "I can't wait to see him receive all of the credit he deserves."

"It was a blessing from God that he was able to make a perfect landing in a difficult situation," Conroyd's wife Shelly told the Daily News.

Sullenberger himself praised Conroyd.

"I commend the crew for ensuring a successful outcome for everyone onboard," he said in a statement obtained by Fox News.

To watch the complete video by passengers Alessandro Albero and Chase Benzenberg click on the player below: