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After emergency landing in Cold Bay, Delta passengers back in the air

Suzanna Caldwell
Delta Air Lines flight 208, en route from Tokyo to San Francisco, was diverted to Cold Bay, Alaska after reporting trouble with an engine. Oct. 30, 2013, AKDOT / Jeffrey Doerning

A Delta Air Lines flight traveling from Tokyo to San Francisco made an emergency landing in Cold Bay early Tuesday morning following a “possible issue” with one of the aircraft's engines, according to the airline.

Delta flight 208, a Boeing 767, made an emergency landing just after 6 a.m. Alaska time in Cold Bay, a Southwest Alaska community 634 miles from Anchorage, according to airline spokesman Michael Thomas.

Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board chief for Alaska, said that he had only preliminary information Wednesday afternoon, but it appeared that the pilots of the plane became aware of the problem at some point in the aircraft's journey over the Pacific Ocean.

"While en route they received an error," Johnson said. "Basically, they got an indication of some type of an anomaly with the EEC," or electronic engine control, which monitors the status of the aircraft's engines.

Johnson said that the pilots then followed procedures set up for such a circumstance, and the procedure in this case required that they head for the nearest airport. That airport happened to be Cold Bay, a far cry from the San Francisco Bay the plane was originally bound for. 

Then, Johnson said, on approach into Cold Bay, the pilots had reported that engine no. 1, on the left side of the aircraft, had gone into "auto-shutdown," though the reason for the shutdown wasn't yet known. Johnson added that the NTSB, which typically investigates plane crashes but also investigates some other incidents with aircraft, was currently "monitoring" the situation to see what the exact circumstances were surrounding the reported engine failure, and then "see if we need to get involved from there."

Despite the shutdown, the plane was able to touch down safely, allowing the 167 passengers and 11 crew members to disembark and spend an unexpected morning in Cold Bay. Jill Reese, Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the community of Cold Bay -- with a population of about 100 -- came together to help the passengers.

Thomas said another Delta aircraft was dispatched to retrieve the stranded passengers. It arrived in Cold Bay at 1:30 p.m. and departed before 4:00 without incident on to San Francisco.

Many of the passengers had stayed in either the airport or school while they waited for the new plane to come, Reese said.

Cold Bay is considered one of the commercial hubs of the Aleutian Islands. Its runway is over 10,000 feet long, making it the fifth-longest runway in the state. According to DOT, the runway was built to that length in response to Japan's invasion of Attu Island during World War II. The runway is designated as an alternative runway for diverting trans-Pacific flights.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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