Obama’s Plane Problem

From ERSNews.com:

Presumptive Democratic nominee Barak Obama had a little campaign excitement he did not count on today in the skies over the Midwest.

The campaign staff and press corps traveling with him on Monday (7/7/08) had airplane troubles.  Senator Obama’s chartered Midwest Airlines MD-81, with 48 passengers aboard, developed an “inflight control issue.”  The pilot decided to divert the plane to St. Louis from its destination of Charlotte, North Carolina where the Senator was scheduled to deliver a speech.

The plane was previously used by 2004 democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during his unsuccessful run for president.

The aircraft, tail numbered N804ME took off from Chicago’s Midway airport just before 10AM central time.  The pilot reported having trouble maintaining the airplane’s nose at the proper angle during flight.  

You can see the path the flight took and other details of the flight here:


Midwest Airlines issued a statement stating that an emergency chute was accidentally deployed in the tail cone. According to the airline the plane was never in any serious safety trouble.

What Midwest didn’t tell the media was that this particular airplane has had previous problems with the rear emergency chutes.  In 1999 the plane had four service difficulty reports filed related to the escape chutes in the rear of the plane.  Calls to Midwest Airlines by ERSNews were not returned prior to publication of this story.

Those specific problems with the emergency slides along with a myriad of other mechanical problems with the plane are detailed in service difficulty reports (SDRs) as they are known in the aviation world.  The reports are filed with the FAA.  All 23 SDRs on the plane Obama was flying yesterday can be seen here on ERS News.


The airplane was purchased by Midwest Airlines in late 1990’s. It had previously been operated by two Japanese airlines:  TOA and Japan Airlines.  The plane originally went into service in 1981.

Midwest Airlines put out this statement late Monday.

(Midwest Airlines)

"An emergency slide located in the tail cone of the plane deployed in flight. While there was never an issue as to the safety of the flight, as a precautionary measure, we decided to divert the plane to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where it landed just before 10 a.m. CDT. We are in the process of making alternative travel arrangements for Senator Obama and his campaign."

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating, also issued this statement:

"At about 9:30 a.m. CDT this morning, a McDonnell Douglas MD-81 airplane (N804ME), operated by Midwest Airlines as Flight 8663, diverted to St. Louis, Missouri, during a flight from Chicago, Illinois to Charlotte, North Carolina," the statement said. "There were no injuries to the 48 passengers and crew." 

The NTSB statement said the post-flight inspection of the airplane revealed an in-flight deployment of the aft emergency exit slide within the tail cone.

"Preliminary information indicate that the crew disconnected the autopilot during climb-out from Chicago, while being vectored around thunderstorms, when they reportedly felt elevator control forces that were heavier than normal," the statement said. "They therefore elected to make a precautionary landing at St. Louis. After landing, it was learned that the aft emergency exit slide had deployed within the tail cone. The tail cone did not separate from the airplane."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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