The JetBlue Airbus A320 had been unable to retract the front wheels after take-off and they were jammed sideways. After circling and dumping fuel for three hours, the pilot landed at Los Angeles international airport - on the back wheels before easing on to the front tyres.
They soon disintegrated, sending up sparks and then a plume of flames as the plane came to a halt. Within minutes of landing, the plane's door opened and the 140 passengers walked down a stairway with their luggage and on to the tarmac, where buses waited.
"We all cheered. I was bawling. I cried so much," said Christine Lund, 25.
Passengers said they had watched their own drama unfolding on the news on in-flight televisions until just before the landing. One described it as surreal to watch. Another said she would have been calmer without it.
"At the end it was the worst because you didn't know if it was going to work, if we would catch fire. It was very scary. Grown men were crying," said Diane Hamilton, 32, a television graphics specialist.
As the plane was about to touch the ground, Hamilton said, crew members ordered people to assume a crash position, putting their heads between their knees.
"They would yell, "Brace! Brace! Brace!"' she said. "I thought this would be it."
The plane landed on an auxiliary runway where fire trucks and emergency crews had massed as a precaution. No injuries were immediately reported among the passengers and six crew members, fire officials said.
"It was a very, very smooth landing. The pilot did an outstanding job," said fire Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli. "There was a big hallelujah and a lot of clapping on that aircraft."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.
JetBlue flight 292 had left Bob Hope Airport in Burbank at 3.17pm for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin.
The Airbus A320 first circled the Long Beach Airport, about 30 miles south of Burbank, then was cleared to land at Los Angeles International Airport. It stayed aloft to burn off fuel and lighten its weight, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Donn Walker.
Passenger Zachary Mascoon said he had tried at one point to call his family, but his cell phone call wouldn't work.
"I wanted to call my dad to tell him I'm alive so far," the 27-year-old musician said.
Mascoon praised the flight crew's professionalism and how calmly they handled the emergency.
The plane landed at 6.19pm yesterday, in the early hours London time. Some passengers shook hands with emergency workers as they walked off the plane. Others talked on their cell phones and waved to cameras. One firefighter carrying a boy across the tarmac put his helmet on the child's head.
JetBlue, based in Forest Hills, New York, is a five-year-old low-fare airline with 286 flights a day and destinations in 13 states and the Caribbean. It operates a fleet of 81 A320s.Reuse content