Southwest Airlines passengers traveling from Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans experienced a horrific, near-death experience when their pilot attempted to land at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in severe weather on Saturday. Those on the flight later described the zero visibility conditions as the plane was surrounded by thunder and lightning, with passengers screaming and crying in terror.
When the pilot got close enough to ground to land he suddenly decided to change course and pull back up, as the plane rocked in the air. “We came through the clouds and the plane was just tilting back and forth,” recalled New Orleans WWL-TV reporter Lauren Bale, who happened to be on the flight. “It was going all over the place.”
“It felt like I was about to lift off. I felt like I was done. I felt like I was about to see baby Jesus and Papa God,” remarked another woman, who said she thought she was going to die. After circling Armstrong International, the pilot eventually decided to change course and went on to safely land in Panama City for a brief grounding. The flight eventually made it back to New Orleans around 2:30 p.m., four hours behind schedule.
Bale live-tweeted her experience, admitting that she reached out to family members to say her goodbyes, fearing the worst.
Southwest Airlines released a statement regarding the incident, reiterating that safety is a top focus.
“Our top focus is Safety. Flight 3461 from Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans arrived about four hours behind schedule after persistent thunderstorms over New Orleans forced prolonged holding near New Orleans awaiting clearance from air traffic controllers followed by a refueling stop in Panama City before the completion of the journey. The Safety of our Customers and Employees as well the Safe operation of every flight is our highest priority.”
The company claims it is investigating reports of what happened and will be reaching out individually to ticket holders.