A WestJet Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop flying from Vancouver to Nanaimo alerted ground crews as it landed at Nanaimo airport on Tuesday afternoon. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Plane filled with smoke lands at Nanaimo Airport

WestJet flight came in from Vancouver

An airplane was met on the runway by firefighters after the plane’s cabin filled with smoke.

Passengers aboard a WestJet Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop flying from Vancouver to Nanaimo Airport were shaken, but uninjured after the aircraft filled with smoke and made an emergency landing this afternoon, March 20.

WestJet flight 3161 was about five minutes away from Nanaimo Airport shortly before 1 p.m., when according to passengers, the cabin began to fill with a smoky haze.

“I can confirm that WestJet Encore flight 3161 from Vancouver to Nanaimo declared an emergency this afternoon after smoke was noticed in the cabin and flight deck upon approach into the Nanaimo airport,” said Lauren Stewart, WestJet spokeswoman, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin. “The crew declared an emergency to establish priority landing and the positioning of emergency vehicles. Upon landing, guests were safely evacuated from the aircraft into the terminal to await their carry-on and luggage. All guests and crew have been off-loaded and a preliminary maintenance inspection will be performed shortly.”

Stewart said there were 56 passengers aboard the aircraft, which was on the ground at 12:56 p.m.

“About five minutes from landing there was a little bit of smoke started coming into the plane,” said Darren MacDonald, passenger. “They were very calm about the whole bit, saying they were coming in to land and the pilots had everything under control.”

MacDonald said the flight attendants remained calm.

“They came in to land and hit the brakes, shut the engines down and got everybody off as fast as possible,” MacDonald said.

Rhonda Leclair and her husband Derrick were on the final leg of their trip from Halifax, N.S. She said the cabin started filling with light smoke.

“So someone notified the flight attendant and she checked with the pilots,” Leclair said. “She said, keep your seatbelts on, there may be an emergency landing … there were some panicked people with children. They wanted to keep their children safe. It was really kind of confusing, though, if you ask me, and then we evacuated and here we are.”

Passengers said the smoke in the cabin smelled like oil or possibly electrical components burning.

Henry and Michelle Micheletti, of Saskatchewan, said the plane had just flown into a cloud when the smoke appeared.

“We just flew into a big cloud and all of a sudden I could smell something and then I looked up at the front and it looked kind of foggy and I thought, well that’s kind of weird. I’ve never seen a cloud come into a plane before and then it just got really smoky and then you knew. I mean it wasn’t a question anymore,” Henry said.

The couple said everyone stayed very calm, but they were worried and admitted it was a long five minutes to the airport.

“Oh, yeah, we were praying all right … I thought any second things were going to go really bad.”

Passengers were evacuated with the plane on the runway, which was closed for about one hour as emergency crews checked through the aircraft to be certain there was no actual fire on board and no risk of fire breaking out before it was towed off the runway to a parking apron near the airport terminal.

Cranberry and North Cedar volunteer fire departments were called out to assist Nanaimo Airport’s fire service. B.C. Ambulance and RCMP also responded. Passengers were checked over by B.C. Ambulance paramedics.

“The passengers were all safely taken off the aircraft and the aircraft has been pulled in for servicing,” said Mike Hooper, Nanaimo Airport president and CEO.

What malfunction caused the smoke hasn’t yet been confirmed.

“It’s still under investigation so we don’t have anything to point to yet,” Stewart said.

The last time a commercial airliner made an emergency landing at Nanaimo Airport was in December 2013 when an Air Canada Jazz flight experienced and engine fire en route from Nanaimo to Vancouver and turned back to Nanaimo.

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