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Teen Has Jet’s Number : Hobby Clicks as Crippled Plane Skids In to Landing at LAX

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most tourists can’t get out of Los Angeles International Airport fast enough when they arrive for their summer vacation.

Not Stuart Haigh. His idea of a good time wasn’t sightseeing at the beach or touring Universal Studios. He preferred staking out a cozy spot at an airport terminal window that overlooks a busy LAX runway.

That’s where the 16-year-old schoolboy from Manchester, England, was enjoying himself on Monday when a United Airlines jumbo jet skidded toward an emergency nose-up landing in front of him.

As the crippled plane flashed past the terminal window, Stuart snapped what may be the only photograph of the almost-new Boeing 747-400 landing with its front wheels retracted.

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All 344 passengers and crew members used emergency chutes to evacuate the aircraft. Twenty-three suffered minor injuries as they slid to the Tarmac, but the $125-million plane suffered only minor damage. The cause of the landing-gear problem has yet to be determined, United officials said Wednesday.

“I noticed immediately that there was no nose wheel. I grabbed a shot and then ran over to the next window to see down the runway. The plane just dropped straight away, almost immediately, and stopped,” Stuart said.

About six seconds later, passengers began jumping out on the inflated evacuation chutes as he clicked off more pictures.

Stuart Haigh’s vacation was off to a flying start.

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The teen-ager’s hobby is collecting aircraft identification numbers. He looks for the small letter-and-number combinations painted on the sides of planes and dutifully records them in a log book that lists the ID number of nearly every civilian aircraft ever built.

Over the past four years, Stuart has noted nearly 14,000 different plane numbers on visits to British airports and air shows and during his family’s yearly holiday trips.

To his delight, the crippled jumbo jet bore the designation N174UA. That meant the airliner was one Stuart had never seen before. “Monday was a brilliant day, one of the most exciting of my life,” he said.

Stuart’s parents, Alan and Norma Haigh, take his unusual hobby in stride. They say they have become accustomed to family vacations where sightseeing is shoe-horned around repeat visits to airports.

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“I do get a little fed up at times. One airplane to me is the same as any other. But it’s OK--it keeps Stuart out of mischief,” said Alan Haigh. Added his wife: “We sit and wait . . . most airports have comfortable seats.”

The family managed to squeeze in side trips to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood during a three-day Los Angeles visit that ended Wednesday. But they started and ended each day at Los Angeles International, where Stuart scoped out plane numbers with high-powered binoculars.

“I’ll probably identify 2,000 during this trip. Airlines in America get one new plane every three days,” he said as the family waited for a flight to Hawaii. Officials for Boeing’s commercial aircraft division in Seattle--whose production plant Stuart hopes to visit after leaving Hawaii--said that estimate is not far-fetched.

“I checked off maybe 100, 150 new planes just this morning,” Stuart said. “This is the best airport I’ve ever seen.”

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With that, Alan and Norma Haigh climbed onto the American Airlines DC-10 that would take them to the sands of Waikiki and their son to four glorious days at Honolulu International Airport.

As he boarded, Stuart glanced out the terminal window and made a note of the airliner’s designation. It was N161AA--a new number for his book.

It was going to be a good flight.


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