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After emergency landing in Ga., Allegiant passengers complete trip by bus

ST. PETERSBURG — Dan Cremer's plane had just made an emergency landing. He was tired, still sore from a seven-day bike ride across Iowa.

With the flight grounded, he and 154 other passengers faced an hours-long car ride to get home.

So Cremer bought a lottery ticket.

"I figured we were lucky," he said wryly. "I bought one in Georgia. We didn't win anything. The plane not crashing was winning enough, I guess."

The passengers on the Allegiant Air flight from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport completed their trip via bus Monday morning, arriving shortly after 9:30 a.m. — nearly 12 hours after their plane was scheduled to touch down.

Flight 863 was almost to Florida when the pilots made an emergency landing in Albany, Ga.

"The pilots had an indication of a possible fire in the cargo hold," Allegiant spokesman Brian Davis said. "In an abundance of caution, they made the decision to land and get everyone off the plane."

Everyone evacuated safely using the escape chutes and no one was injured. No evidence of a fire was found.

Passengers learned there was a problem when a flight attendant announced the plane was making an emergency landing.

One passenger, retired Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeff Testerman, said he and others could tell from a tremble in her voice that something more than a little unusual was happening — but for the most part everyone remained outwardly calm.

Cremer, 49, said he was not overly worried but the landing felt abrupt.

"It seemed fast and a little hard, and then they really slammed the brakes and reversed the engines," he said.

Testerman said the evacuation was safe and orderly, despite passengers' inward struggle to remain composed.

"The worst part, I think, was that … you have a sense that there could be a fire in the cabin, and you can't get out right away because there's 30 to 50 people in front of you," he said.

After the landing and evacuation, passengers were guided to a nearby field, where they waited for roughly an hour.

Passengers then were taken to a terminal building where they stayed about five more hours, Testerman said. They had about 40 pizzas, water, soft drinks and doughnuts to eat but little provision made for places to sleep.

About 2 a.m., arrangements were made to bring carry-on items from the plane to the terminal, he said, after several passengers told officials they needed insulin and other medications they had stored there.

About an hour later, Testerman said, the passengers boarded two tour buses, a smaller shuttle-type bus and a limousine for the drive to Clearwater. There were no bathrooms available on any of the vehicles, he said, so drivers made comfort stops along the way.

Most passengers expressed relief when they finally finished their journey Monday morning, any fear or frustration at the delay having long since passed.

Peggy Rometo, a former flight attendant from Sarasota, said she always was confident that passengers would make it out of the plane safely and praised the Allegiant crew for its calm response.

Still, as she passed a trio of reporters outside the airport Monday morning, she was a bit frazzled from the trip.

"This was just too much adventure for one night," she said.

Earlier this month, an Allegiant jet taking off from St. Petersburg-Clearwater en route to Toledo, Ohio, struck a bird, which cracked the windshield, and had to return to the airport. A two-hour delay resulted.

On June 30, an Allegiant flight from St. Petersburg-Clearwater to Asheville, N.C., was canceled after the plane suffered mechanical and then personnel problems. That left 163 passengers stuck in a small part of the airport for six hours while the airline worked to get the plane fixed.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow him on Twitter @zacksampson.

After emergency landing in Ga., Allegiant passengers complete trip by bus 07/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 29, 2013 11:48pm]
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