A Delta Airlines flight en route from San Diego to Salt Lake City was forced to make an emergency return to the San Diego International Airport Saturday morning after experiencing some sort of pressure issues in the cabin.
Delta Flight 978, a Boeing 737-800 twin-jet aircraft, took off from Lindbergh Field at 6:15 a.m. as planned. However, 15 or 20 minutes into the flight, things quickly changed, leading to a frightening ordeal for approximately 140 passengers and crew aboard the plane.
Passenger Melinda Wing was traveling with her husband to visit her kids in Salt Lake City. They were sitting near the emergency exit when, suddenly, she said their oxygen masks dropped from above their seats without warning.
“The pilot came on [the loudspeaker] and announced that we were losing pressure,” she told NBC 7. “He told us to put on our masks.”
Wing said the plane then began turning around and heading back to San Diego, where it safely landed without incident about 20 minutes later.
While she and her husband tried to remain calm, Wing said there was some panic on the plane as the aircraft dropped to a lower altitude and made its way back to San Diego.
“There was a little bit of hysteria; babies crying, losing pressure in their ears. Condensation coming out from under the seats as we were landing, which was a little scary, because people thought it was smoke,” she recalled.
Fortunately, once the airplane landed back at Lindbergh Field, Wing said everyone on board seemed okay. The aircraft was towed in and passengers eventually disembarked.
As they landed, Wing said she texted her kids to let them know they weren’t going to make it to Utah as planned. She also texted them photos of her and her husband wearing their oxygen masks and told her kids she loved them.
“We landed safely and all is well. But now that it’s over, that we’ve landed, it all sets in,” added Wing.
Michael Mishko was also a passenger on Delta Flight 978. He said he was sleeping when, about 20
minutes into the flight, he was suddenly awakened to the sounds of oxygen masks dropping and the pilot making an announcement.
Mishko, who was sitting toward the rear of the plane, said he heard a loud noise behind him, “like a big rush of air.”
He then said he heard some passengers and crew saying there was smoke in the cabin.
Though some people around him were panicking, Mishko said he wasn’t all that frightened.
“I wasn’t too afraid, as long as the engines are running, we’re okay,” he said. “But, it was definitely an experience.”
Passenger Kipp Gstettenbauer said the incident was a bit surreal. He’s never experienced anything like it before.
“It was really weird. Not a lot you can do up there, you just see what happens,” he told NBC 7. “I thought it was a prank at first. It was just weird.”
Gstettenbauer said he believes the oxygen supply unit shorted out on the plane, causing some smoke throughout the cabin. He said a lot of people aboard the aircraft were shaken up, with some screaming. He also said some passengers fell ill due to the sudden drop in altitude.
Gstettenbauer said that once the plane returned to Lindbergh Field, passengers could see fire engines, police cars and ambulances waiting on the runway.
After disembarking, the airline re-booked him for a later flight, he said.
Paula Knight, also aboard Delta Flight 978, said she became very frightened once the oxygen masks dropped and the pilot made his announcement.
“It was just frantic. I couldn’t get the mask on right,” she recalled.
Knight said the cabin then experienced some changes in temperature, pressure and altitude, with it becoming hot and then quickly very cold. She then saw condensation and possible smoke making its way through the cabin.
“It scared the crap out of me. I thought I was in a movie. It freaks you out. I thought I was going to die. [It was] seriously scary,” she told NBC 7.
NBC 7 reached out to Delta Airlines for comment on the incident but have not heard back from the company. Delta was working to get Flight 978 passengers booked on other flights following the incident. Officials at the San Diego International Airport said the flight was canceled for the day and the plane is currently out of service.