Skip to main content

Southwest Airlines pilot apparently tells passengers 'We're going down'

By Chuck Johnston and Kait Richmond, CNN
updated 3:35 PM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Passenger: "The panicked captain said, 'We're in trouble; we're going down'"
  • Airline says pilot inadvertently activated the PA system
  • The FAA is investigating

(CNN) -- As his plane made a rapid descent to normalize cabin pressure, a Southwest Airlines pilot went on the plane's loudspeaker and apparently told passengers the aircraft was going down.

"At first it sounded like someone was coming over the PA to talk. Then it sounded like shots through the cabin, twice, back to back," passenger Grace Stroud told CNN. "Seconds later, the panicked captain said, 'We're in trouble; we're going down.'"

The flight attendants then began securing the bins, she told "CNN Newsroom" in a separate interview. One told the captain to deploy the oxygen masks.

"I'm sure everybody went through their private moments," Stroud said. "My moment was, 'OK, so this is how I'm going to die,' and 'At least it will be quick.'"

Another passenger, Shelley Wills, told CNN affiliate WTVD that the pilot made the remarks as the plane went into a nosedive when it neared the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

"He said, 'We're going down.' And everyone is looking around like, 'Is this a joke? Is he serious?' And then you felt the nosedive."

Soon after, the Boeing 737 leveled out and made an emergency landing at the Raleigh airport.

Pilot's deadly in-flight heart attack threatens flight

Asked about the WTVD report, a Southwest spokeswoman said it was inaccurate.

"Our pilot said he was descending to 10,000 feet. The report was not accurate from this customer. We landed safely," spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger told CNN.

But in an e-mail the airline sent Stroud, it acknowledged what Stroud suspected may have happened.

"As the captain was communicating his plan with the flight attendants, he inadvertently activated the PA system in the cabin," the e-mail said. "We sincerely regret any confusion caused by the relay of the information."

Passenger lands plane after pilot falls ill

Southwest Airlines Flight 3426 had taken off from Tampa, Florida, and was headed to Raleigh. As it approached its destination, the pilot noticed a loss of cabin pressure -- prompting him to make a earlier-than-usual descent.

"As the checklist mandates when there is a pressurization issue, our captain did communicate with flight attendants over the PA that he was initiating a descent to a lower altitude," Eichinger said. "The issue resolved itself, which is also not uncommon, and the aircraft landed normally at Raleigh-Durham."

Photos: Amazing airplanes crashes with no loss of life

For her part, Stroud said, "I know what I heard."

She said she talked to others seated around her, and they all agreed they heard the pilot say the same thing.

The FAA says it is investigating the incident.

For the "uneasy feelings" the experience may have caused her, Stroud was offered a voucher good toward a future flight.

Plane blows engine, loses power: 'We're gonna crash!'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Aviation
It's New Year's Eve, and we're suspended 2,000 feet over Atlanta by an iconic gas bag. Hard to believe I'm actually flying the Goodyear blimp.
Superjumbo, the world's largest passenger plane, has finally conquered the world's busiest airport.
The Soviet shoot-down of Flight 007 killed 269 people, triggering outrage, conspiracy theories and an activist movement that lives on.
A pilot/film consultant with time in Cessnas, fighter jets and airliners reveals behind-the-scenes details about the aviation version of "Cars."
These huge planes have names like Dreamlifter and Super Guppy. Conversations stop. Fingers point. How can something so big defy gravity?
Pilots ranked Hong Kong's now-closed Kai Tak among the world's trickiest airports. Even top pilots said landing was hair-raising. Here are their stories.
It's an airport security idea that could sweep the U.S.: aviation enthusiasts who alert police about potential terrorism. They're doing it in Chicago.
Where avgeeks get REALLY close. It's arguably the most famous spotting destination on the planet: Maho Beach on the island of St. Maarten.
Here's the inside scoop on the plane crash scene in Denzel Washington's film "Flight" and how real pilots worked to save lives aboard United Flight 232.
He's a "hillbilly" who's been going full speed his whole life. Finally, Preston Henn got his hands on the fastest executive jet on the planet: the G650.
A coach class seat can be a chair of torture. Airline seat experts talk frankly about the anger and discomfort surrounding airline seats.
Can you analyze a traveler's personality by their favorite airplane seat? Of course not; don't be ridiculous. But let's do it anyway.
The Air Force calls it 309 AMARG: a 2,600-acre parking lot for about 5,000 retired U.S. military aircraft. And it's on my avgeek bucket list.
Join us aboard United Flight 1. For the first time since it was grounded for battery troubles, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner returns to domestic service.
 AF447 Rio-Paris plane flight black boxes displayed during a press conference on May 12, 2011, at the BEA headquarters at the airport of Le Bourget.
If data had been uplinked from Air France Flight 447 to satellites before it crashed, would loved ones have been spared some of their anguish?
Hijacker "D.B. Cooper" jumped from a 727 with $200,000. He was never caught. What happened to the top witness, an ex-flight attendant?
The Disbergers have turned airline getaways into an art form: 243 family trips, 7.5 million miles. Here's what they've learned.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT