Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's flight to Charlotte last month developed an emergency more severe than originally reported, according to ABC News.
The flight from Chicago to Charlotte on July 7 was diverted to St. Louis after the pilot of the Midwest Airlines MD-81 jet reported experiencing problems controlling the plane.
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ABC News, which acquired tapes of conversations between the pilot and FAA controllers, said Thursday evening that the situation was worse than the airline company and FAA first said. CBS News also is reporting the story this morning.
Some critics, however, are saying that ABC's coverage of the problem is overblown, adding that problems encountered by Obama's flight are not that extraordinary, and that the network is using the story to help the Obama campaign.
Obama had been scheduled to fly on the morning of July 7 from Chicago to Charlotte, for a speaking engagement near midday at Vance High School in the University City area. Organizers of the local appearance by the presidential candidate were told about 11 a.m. that the flight had been diverted to St. Louis because of mechanical problems.
Eventually, the flight was canceled, and Obama spoke to Charlotte-area supporters by phone.
ABC reported Thursday that at the time of the incident, the FAA said the pilot did not declare an emergency, and Midwest Airlines said safety “was never an issue.”
But according to tapes acquired by ABC, the pilot discovered in the air that he did not have full control of up and down movements of the jet. According to the tapes, the pilot told an FAA controller, “At this time, we would like to declare an emergency and also have CFR standing by in St. Louis.” CFR is an acronym for crash equipment.
On Thursday, an FAA spokeswoman told ABC and CBS that original reports from the agency were wrong, and that the pilot had declared an emergency.
Mechanics later learned that an emergency evacuation slide had activated accidentally in the rear of the plane, preventing the pilot from using the rudder controls.
Critics of the networks' coverage of Obama's campaign have reacted this morning with additional criticism. Online posts at ABC's Web site and other Internet sites include a number of comments that the rudder problems on the plane are not that unusual. They say the network's report Thursday was an effort to build support for the Obama campaign.