Smoke In The Cockpit United Flight 497 Makes A Challenging Landing


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Smoke In The Cockpit United Flight 497 Makes A Challenging Landing

By Mike Mitchell


The above audio should start automatically. The file has been edited for time and length. It includes full exchange between ATC and United Flight 497. The audio is about 20 minutes long.

April 6, 2011 - On Tuesday United Airlines Flight 497 was cleared to depart Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) with 106 passengers and crew onboard an Airbus 320-232 (N409UA) at about 7:07 AM for San Francisco International Airport.   

About 10 minutes into the flight, while climbing through 4,000 feet, the pilot of Flight 497 initially indicated to ATC that they were getting automated warnings and detected smoke in the cockpit and had request to return back to the airport.  

Moments later the pilot informed ATC that the cockpit was filling up with smoke, they had lost power to their primary instruments, declared an emergency and were flying with 32,400 LBS of fuel onboard. Crew indicated that they initiated emergency procedures and requested a precision approach radar (PAR) to the landing runway.

ATC approved the PAR landing and began providing verbal guidance (vectors) to the pilot with turns and decent instructions back to the airport.

The pilot had requested the longest runway which was runway 10. ATC then ordered the airport maintenance ground crew that was doing runway maintenance work on runway 10 to clear their maintenance vehicles of the runway. The maintenance crew attempted to move their vehicles but did not have enough time.  On a two mile final approach Flight 497 was cleared for runway 19. ATC gave Flight 497 their last instructions, cleared to land. ATC then informed the emergency fire equipment crew that they were cleared onto the runway after Flight 497 had landed.  

Upon landing, the crew experienced a loss of anti-skid braking and nose-wheel steering, and exited the runway approximately 2,000 feet from the approach threshold. The passengers and crew exited the airplane via slides. It was reported that the right forward slide did not inflate. There were no reported injuries. Initial information indicates the Airbus 320-232 encountered minor damage. However, the NTSB will be examining the aircraft. 

Dan Bower an NTSB technical expert in systems and survival factors has been signed to lead the NTSB investigation. Additional NTSB experts in the areas of operations, maintenance records, vehicle performance, and flight recorders will also assist.


Parties to the investigation include the Federal Aviation Administration, United Airlines, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Bureau d'Enqu?tes et d'Analyses (BEA) of the Government of France has appointed an Accredited Representative who will also travel to the scene along with technical advisors from Airbus.

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