The crash landing of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco airport threw California skies into chaos Saturday, diverting dozens of flights and forcing others to make dramatic U-turns back to Southern California. The chain reaction left airline passengers both grouchy and grateful up and down the West Coast.
Airlines scrambled throughout the day to find available runways at San Jose and Oakland international airports and as far away as Sacramento and Los Angeles to land their San Francisco-bound flights.
Airport officials in San Jose and Oakland expected operations to return to normal Sunday. But San Francisco airport officials were unsure whether all the airport's runways would be open.
San Jose welcomed 24 flights that had been diverted from SFO on Saturday and was expecting one more arrival Saturday night. Oakland accepted 11 diverted SFO flights.
On Sunday, airport officials with both airports said, it should be business as usual. But "the message will be to check with your carrier," said Brian Kidd, Oakland airport spokesman.
SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said late Saturday that two of the airport's four runways will remain closed until investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrive from Washington overnight and "go through their investigation process. We need to allow that to happen before we're able to open the other two runways, so that remains to be seen."
On Saturday, diverted passengers found it challenging to get home.
Jesse Sellars flew out of Seattle, where he had been vacationing, and was planning to catch a connecting United Airlines flight in San Francisco to get home to Colorado Springs, Colo. Instead, he found himself sitting on a baggage carousel in Oakland with a cellphone pressed against his ear. Sellars had been on hold for 20 minutes and still had no idea how he was going to get home.
"We were dumped here," he said. "United has no support here. They sent a dislocation team, but basically what they said is 'You're dislocated.' "
But Sellars, like untold other displaced airline passengers Saturday, put his dilemma into perspective.
"It's hard to complain about being inconvenienced given what's happened," he said.
Randy McCall and his wife, Laurie, and their two kids were on a United flight from San Diego to Seattle, with a connection at SFO, when the pilot came on the public-address system.
"We were just descending, and the pilot told us the field had been closed, and we were being diverted to San Jose," Randy McCall said. "Before we were even told by the pilot what had happened, passengers already knew because they had pulled out their smartphones. In fact, I remember the pilot telling us, 'In this day of technology, you may find out what happened before we do.' And he was right. Everybody pulled out their iPads, and we were watching it on CNN before we got to the gate."
As soon as they landed in San Jose, Randy McCall said, "Our next thought was, 'How are we gonna get out of here?' We're taking a cruise to Alaska tomorrow, so we have to be there."
Paul Walsh and his wife, Pam Huey, and their two sons were heading to SFO to catch a flight to Salt Lake City, en route to their home in Edina, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, when they received a voice mail from Delta Air Lines saying their flight had been canceled. They were told to catch a flight from San Jose to Salt Lake City, which would get them to Minneapolis only three hours later than they had planned.
But their commuter plane developed pressure problems about 20 minutes into the flight, and was diverted to Fresno, where Walsh, Huey and their children were stuck Saturday night.
They had no hotel room and were counting on catching any flight to Salt Lake City.
Walsh said he wasn't thrilled with the prospect of spending the night in the Central Valley.
"This is my first time in Fresno," he said. "I've never been to Salt Lake, either, for that matter."
Avery Wilson, sporting natty dreadlocks at San Jose airport, identified himself as a member of the Wailers, Bob Marley's band, and said he had a gig Saturday night in San Rafael.
"My bandmates took an earlier flight and got in fine," Wilson said, after lowering his headphones. "I just hope I make it."
Natalie Alund, a reporter for this newspaper, was on a United flight from Los Angeles to SFO that was just about to land when the plane suddenly and violently jerked to the left.
A panicked-looking flight attendant told Alund that a plane had just crashed, and their flight was heading back to LAX. Once back on the ground, hundreds of confused San Francisco-bound passengers swarmed Los Angeles ticket agents and flight information terminals.
"Over the loudspeaker, they were saying, 'This flight's canceled, this flight's canceled, this flight's canceled,' " Alund said. "I then went to the board, and there were eight or nine flights from LAX to SFO. One after another, just like in the movies, they suddenly said, 'Canceled, canceled, canceled.' "
Alund had enjoyed the Fourth of July holiday with friends in Hollywood and planned to spend the night with them again Saturday. But Sunday morning, she planned to take United up on its offer of a free, first-class flight to SFO.