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United plane’s evacuation slide deploys mid-flight

CHICAGO (AP) — An evacuation slide inflated inside a United Airlines plane as it flew from Chicago to Southern California, filling part of the cabin and prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kansas, a passenger said Monday.

Mike Schroeder, 58, said he was flying to Orange County, California, late Sunday when he heard a hiss and pop. Schroeder said he turned around and saw the plane’s evacuation slide starting to inflate. The slide – which would normally inflate outside the plane during an emergency – filled the galley.

Passenger’s photo shows an emergency chute after it inflated inside a United Airlines plane as it flew from Chicago to California, filling part of the cabin and forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kansas. (AP Photo/Michael Schroeder)

“I thought to myself, `I hope there is no one in the restroom because if they are they’re not coming out for a long time,’” he said in a telephone interview Monday morning as he and the other passengers prepared to board a bus from a hotel back to the airport to resume their journey. He said it was lucky that no flight attendants were in the galley at the time as they would surely have been hurt.

United Airlines officials said in a statement Monday that no one aboard Flight 1463 was injured.

Schroeder, a lawyer from Newport Beach, California, said he was surprised at how calm all the passengers were, with many – himself included – snapping photos of the inflated slide with their phones. For a short time, he said, lights went out and movies stopped playing along the left side of the Boeing 737-700.

The pilot announced that the plane had not lost cabin pressure and that he was looking for a place to land; a couple of minutes later the pilot said they would be landing at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport. The plane went into what Schroeder described as “a steep decline,” but the landing was uneventful. The plane was escorted to the terminal by a fire truck.

“When the pilot came out right after landing he said, `Oh golly, I’ve never seen that before,’” said Schroeder, who was traveling with his 28-year-old daughter. He said United has already informed passengers that they will each receive $300 in travel credit.

Christen David, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based airline, said the slide “accidentally deployed” and that all 96 passengers were seated when the slide inflated. The airline provided passengers with hotel rooms and planned a flight Monday morning from Wichita to California.

United’s maintenance team will inspect the aircraft to find out what happened, David said.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said agency investigators were at the scene in Wichita, but that the investigation would take weeks. She did not have further information.

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