NEW YORK (PIX11)—Passengers arriving from and departing for Poland from Kennedy Airport were hailing the pilot of a LOT Polish Airlines 767 as an international hero after he safely landed his jumbo jet on it's belly, saving himself and 230 others on board from a potential disaster.
Flight LO 16 left Newark Airport for Warsaw Monday night, and about half an hour out, the pilot realized he had a problem with his landing gear hydraulics.
As ground crews spread flame retardant foam on the runway, the flight crew dumped fuel. Some passengers feared the worst. Some cried, others prayed loudly and said their goodbyes to loved ones sitting next to them.
Witnesses held their breath as the plane edged closer to the runway, then touched down, shedding sparks as it skidded more than a mile down the foam covered runway.
When it stopped, emergency crews sprayed the plane with foam and the 220 passengers and 11 crew members evacuated through the inflated slides.
Everybody walked away without a scratch and some passengers felt the landing was so smooth, they thought the landing gear was actually down. Airline industry mechanics called the accident "unprecedented," noting that never before has a 767 experienced a total failure of it's landing gear.
Radek Kucharski of Brooklyn told PIX 11 News he was terrified when he heard the news that the plane was in trouble, because he had a friend on board.
"I was scared and was relieved when I learned he plane landed and everybody was safe." Andrius Leliuga, who was boarding tonight's LOT flight to Warsaw told us he was comforted to learn of the skill and professionalism of the crew of the troubled plane. He said it was reassuring.
The President of Poland offered his thanks to the crew. Within hours, the pilot was the focus on several Facebook fan pages. Many were likening him to Chesley Sullenberger, "Sully," the hero of "Miracle on Hudson" fame who skillfully landed crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River almost three years ago.