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Slim Odds of Repeat Accident Offer Travelers From Vegas Some Comfort

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Judie Browne’s hands were shaking as she ate Players Choice cheese popcorn bought at the airport shop.

“Look, I have chills,” said Browne, 60, to her husband sitting next to her in the terminal. “I don’t want to take that flight today.”

“That flight” was Southwest Airlines 1455 from Las Vegas to Burbank. It was the day after the same flight overshot the runway when landing in Burbank, crashing through a fence and screeching to a halt across Hollywood Way.

The few injuries suffered by passengers and crew were all minor. But emotions were running high Monday at Gate C1 at McCarren International Airport, just off the Strip, as tourists, performers and businesspeople waited to board Flight 1455.

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“I’ve been nervous all day,” said Bob Eggleston, 33, of Simi Valley. Like many in the crowd packed into the gate area--the flight was booked full--Eggleston had been in town for a NASCAR race Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“But I just keep thinking, the odds have got to be against it happening again,” he said.

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Many of those on standby had been trying to get out of Las Vegas since the Flight 1455 mishap, when many Southwest flights to Burbank were canceled, including one Marian Diller was booked on.

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“We were sitting out on the runway,” said Diller, 62, of Encino, “when the pilot made an announcement that an ‘incident’ had happened in Burbank.”

The incident did not stay a secret for long.

“Everyone on the flight pulled out their cell phones and called Los Angeles,” Diller said.

Greg Neneman of Oxnard, also there for the NASCAR race, took the crash as a possible good omen.

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“I thought, ‘Maybe I should get drunk and stay in the casino. I figured it was a sign my luck was about to change.’ ”

Fear of losing money, however, kept him from the casino.

The anxiety level rose when word spread that Flight 1455 was delayed 90 minutes. Like the occupants of a stuck elevator, the passengers--some on chairs and others sitting on the floor--struck up conversations.

“It should be Prozac and Absolut for everyone on this flight, that’s what Southwest should do,” said Trent Carlini, 35, producer and star of “The Dream King” revue at Boardwalk Casino.

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A Tarzana man nearby who didn’t want to be named said, “If I see Halle Berry is piloting this plane, I’m getting off.”

Judie and Eddie Browne said they fly to Las Vegas often for weekend getaways and always come home on a Sunday afternoon. But this trip was different.

“It was my birthday Sunday,” Judie Browne said, smiling.

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If they had returned Sunday, it would have been on Flight 1455.

“I said to Eddie, ‘We lost money this trip, but we came out ahead.’ ”

The flight itself was a bit somber for Southwest, where flight attendants often tell jokes over the P.A. system and try to outdo each other with puns.

On a flight earlier Monday to Las Vegas, the formal safety talk was followed by a song about seat belts sung by an attendant to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock.”

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Although the crew was amiable on Flight 1455, there was no joking around. Judie Browne took a seat opposite Michael Berger, 41, a Zen practitioner who lives in Salt Lake City. Dressed in a black linen shirt he had bought on his last trip to Nepal, he was heading to Los Angeles, he said, to meet with his martial-arts instructor and acting agent.

The two got along famously, talking about books, travel and the cosmos, so much so that Browne seemed distracted until she looked out the window and saw the runway.

“We’re landing, guys,” she said, clutching her seat. Her husband spoke to her reassuringly, and as the wheels of the jet touched the ground, he quietly repeated, “Good landing” several times.

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As the plane pulled into the terminal, the cabin broke into spirited applause and shouting that would not have been out of place at a rock concert.

One woman yelled, “1455 made it!”

But Browne just looked at her husband and said, “Baby, we’re home.”

’ It should be Prozac and Absolut for everyone on this flight, that’s what Southwest should do.’

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Trent Carlini, producer and star of “The Dream King” revue at Boardwalk Casino


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