NEW ORLEANS -- A TACA International Airlines jet that made an extraordinary power-off landing with 41 people aboard on the grounds of a NASA facility reached its scheduled destination of New Orleans International Airport Monday, 13 days late.
The Boeing 737, with a replacement for one of its two engines, vaulted into the air from a little-used World War II runway after a take-off roll of barely 1,200 feet.
It landed 17 minutes later at New Orleans International, 15 miles to the west where additional maintenance will be performed before the aircraft is returned to service.
TACA Flight 110, with 41 passengers and crew aboard, was nearing the end of a May 24 trip from San Salvador to New Orleans when it lost power in both engines 15 miles from the airport.
The pilot maneuvered the craft to make a near-perfect landing on a grassy strip between the Intracoastal Waterway and the old runway at the NASA-Martin Marietta Michoud Aerospace facility. No one was hurt, and the plane was left intact, making the flyaway possible.
It was the first time a commercial airliner had ever made a safe, 'dead stick' landing away from an airport, aviation experts said.
Technicians from Boeing and General Electric, maker of the plane's engines, replaced the right engine before the plane was cleared for the short hop to New Orleans International.
The plane carried only a pilot and copilot, supplied by Boeing, and a light fuel load of about 5,500 pounds for what was described as a normal flight.
Although the pilot had 5,200 feet of runway to use, he lifted the nose sharply after using less than a fourth of the strip, and banked to the right to ensure clearance of a high-rise bridge and high-tension power lines.
'We could have lost an engine in rotation and still cleared all that,' said National Transportation and Safety Board investigator Warren Wandel. 'We had a considerable safety margin.'
Martin Marietta employees who gathered outside to watch the take-off cheered and applauded as the aircraft rose sharply into low-hanging clouds.
'We're ready to get back to the business of tanks nstead of airplanes,' said John Hill, manager of the NASA facility where external fuel tanks for the space shuttle are made.
Wandel said the engine that was removed would be sent to the manufacturer's plant at Cincinnati, Ohio, a 'detailed teardown inspection,' Wandel said. He said the engine showed over-heating damage.
'The investigation is still continuing. It will take several months. The fact the plane is in service doesn't mean it's over by any means. It was returned to service before it took off from here,' he said.
Early speculation on the cause of the total engine failure centered on possible fuel contamination or severe weather. The engines quit as the plane flew threw a severe thunderstorm that generated heavy rains and golf ball-sized hail.
The aircraft had 12,800 pounds of fuel on board when the engines quit. However, fuel contamination, since has been ruled out as a cause of the engine failures.