Tyler Krueger and his girlfriend Avery Porch were on a plane bound for Baltimore, headed back from their vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama, when they heard a loud bang, followed by a popping sound.
Krueger, 24, of Towson, remembers looking over to his girlfriend, who said it was likely just turbulence. But when the cabin started to fill with smoke -- its smell unmistakable -- the couple was sure it was something more.
“When everyone saw the smoke you could tell on everyone’s faces,” he said. “People were crying.”
After the plane, which flew out of Atlanta, landed safely in Raleigh, North Carolina, Delta Airlines’ put out a statement on the situation, writing that the flight crew opted for an emergency landing “out of an abundance of caution after receiving an indication of a possible issue with one of the aircraft's engines.”
But passengers aboard the plane described a more harrowing scene.
Krueger, who sat in the middle seat next to the plane’s emergency exit, held hands with his girlfriend and the stranger beside him.
“We just prayed the whole time,” he said.
He sent off text messages to his parents, even though they wouldn’t send, and braced himself to open the emergency exit and help others through.
“I at one point honestly thought we were going down,” he said.
It was about 20 minutes before the plane landed in Raleigh. When passengers heard the aircraft’s landing gear deploy, they breathed a collective sigh of relief, he said.
Filled with anxiety, Krueger didn’t use the $30 food voucher from the airline, opting instead to gift it to someone else in the airport, since he said it expired at midnight that night.
“I wasn’t hungry, my girlfriend wasn’t hungry,” he said.
In a statement Wednesday, the airline offered an apology to passengers.
“The flight landed without incident and customers were reaccommodated on an alternate aircraft. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience this diversion may have caused,” wrote airline spokesman Michael Thomas in an email.
The plane, a McDonnell Douglas Corp. MD-88, is the oldest type of aircraft being flown by any major carrier in the U.S., and according to a Bloomberg report, Delta had been offering quicker promotions to junior pilots willing to captain the planes, nicknamed “Mad Dogs.” Delta plans to retire the aircraft in 2020, Bloomberg reported.
In 2017, Delta announced that the planes, which are notoriously loud and feature other dated oddities, would no longer fly into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, drawing praise from politicians grateful for the noise relief for those living nearby.
But in the aftermath of the traumatizing event, Krueger said all he can focus on is the sounds from the plane that afternoon.