At the time, the Federal Aviation Administration and Midwest Airlines, owner of the MD-80 charter airliner, said there was no emergency.
ABC News reported Thursday that tower tapes it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the pilot, who was having trouble controlling the pitch of the plane, told an FAA air traffic controller "at this time we would like to declare an emergency and also have CFR (crash equipment) standing by in St. Louis."
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown did not dispute the network's account. She said news media were told minutes after the incident happened that there had been no emergency because that was the initial information passed to the agency's public affairs staff by air traffic control. She said no one went back later to confirm the nature of the incident.
"Information we get in real time is preliminary and may be subject to change when we get a fuller account of what happened," Brown said. "We didn't have any real reason to go back and question what we were told initially ... Nobody called us to question that."
The control tower tapes reveal the pilot reported he no longer had 100 percent control, with only "limited pitch authority" of the aircraft, ABC reported.
"There are many situations in which a pilot declares an emergency and in the vast majority of cases the pilot lands the plane safely," Brown said. "Declaring an emergency gives that aircraft priority and ensures there is rescue equipment available in case there is a real problem."
After the plane landed, Obama read the paper in the front cabin, but ventured briefly to chat with the press at one point.
"I just thought we'd spice things up a little bit today," Obama joked. (
Obama later called the incident a "little glitch."
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, said an initial examination of the plane found no evidence of missing parts or tampering, federal investigators said Thursday.
An FAA official told CBS News that the investigation is focusing on what happened with the airplane, not whether the pilot declared an emergency.