A cargo-carrying jumbo jet flying with only backup power landed in Anchorage early Tuesday, blowing out most of its tires in the process, according to airport officials.
The incident kept a runway closed at Alaska's busiest airport well into the afternoon.
The Southern Air Boeing 747-200 was headed from Miami to Anchorage, then on to Asia, when its four main power generators quit working, according to officials at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
"A couple hours outside of Anchorage, they had a complete electrical failure," said NTSB investigator Clint Johnson. "They were flying almost entirely with battery power, and those were getting depleted."
Two backup generators kicked on, but they do not power a mechanism on the 300- to 400-ton jet that keeps its tires from skidding, said Trudy Wassel, the airport's business manager. Johnson said the plane's crew had no use of the jet's reverse thrusters, used to slow it down during landing.
The crew decided to make an emergency landing in Anchorage, and firefighters rushed to the runway prepared for the worst: a fiery crash.
Of the jet's 18 tires, 14 blew out when it landed about 2 a.m. Tuesday, Wassel said. Only the flight crew was onboard, and nobody was injured, she said.
"Early this morning, when this whole event was taking place and the tires were blowing, the neighbors were reported hearing them (to 911 dispatchers)," Johnson said. "They definitely could hear it in the surrounding neighborhoods."
The plane remained sitting on the runway, called 7 Left or 7L, Tuesday morning while crews worked to fix it and figure out what happened. 7L is one of two east-west runways at the airport.
The adjacent runway, 7 Right, was closed for maintenance unrelated to the emergency landing, Wassel said.
Johnson said the NTSB is investigating the cause of the electrical problem and looking closely at the plane for damage.
The investigation will also try to determine if the failure is an isolated occurrence or if other 747s are at risk, he said.
"It's not a normal event, by any means," Johnson said.
Airport officials said there were no delays with the runway shutdown.
"We have other runways, so we're fully operational with that plane there," Wassel said midday Tuesday, when the 747 still sat on the runway.
All of the tires on the plane -- which still carried the logo of its previous owner, Saudi Air -- had been replaced by 2 p.m., Wassel said. It was towed away and the runway reopened about 5 p.m., Johnson said.
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