Passengers of a Santa Ana-bound
Flight 1463 left Chicago O'Hare International Airport around 8:36 p.m. CDT and was due to land at John Wayne Airport a few hours later. But when the plane's emergency slides at the rear of the cabin unexpectedly began to inflate as it cruised over the Midwest, the pilot quickly descended and diverted the flight to Wichita.
Passengers said they feared the worst as the flight crew realized what was happening.
There "was a hiss and they just had a panicked look," passenger Diane Modini told KWCH-TV. "They quickly took the carts and ran to the back of the plane. The whole back cabin where they sat was full of the chute."
The flight had 101 people on board, including 96 passengers, and landed safely, United Airlines officials said. A maintenance team will inspect the plane to find out why the slides deployed.
Passenger Susan Finkbeiner told KAKE-TV in Kansas she was afraid the slides would force the rear cabin doors open, and that apparently she wasn't alone.
"Eventually, the pilot made an announcement that the plane was OK, but I talked to him after the plane landed and he said he had to descend right away because there was ... a chance the raft could push the door open, so it was definitely a rush," she said.
The jetliner dropped from 38,000 feet to 19,000 feet in about 10 minutes after the chutes deployed and the flight was diverted, according to Flightaware.
"The first thing that went through my mind is, if the chute opened and it probably popped out the door and we'd lose pressure immediately," Modini said. "But luckily that didn't happen, it just inflated inside."
Several passengers snapped photos of the slides filling the cabin on their cellphones and posted them to Twitter. Passenger Taylor Martinez tweeted that it was the "scariest flight of all time."
Another passenger said the plane was on the ground within 20 minutes of the chutes deploying. The passengers were given hotel accommodations in Kansas for the night and were expected to depart Wichita about 10:30 a.m. CDT Monday to finish the trip to Orange County, a John Wayne Airport official told The Times.