TODAY   |  February 09, 2013

Pilot lands plane without landing gear

Faced with a flight emergency when the landing gear wouldn’t deploy, Capt. Tad Wrona of LOT Polish Airlines Flight 16 made a risky decision, crash-landing the plane on its belly with hundreds of passengers onboard. TODAY’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> an amazing feat of airmanship and an incredible display of steely determination and grit. chances are you haven't heard about it. 14 months ago on a flight from newark to warsaw , carrying many american passengers, an airline pilot faced potential disaster. the plane's wheels were stuck. he saved everyone on board, and now he's being hailed as the polish "sully." in the skies over warsaw , lott polish airlines flight 16 with 231 on board was just second away from attempting an emergency landing like no other. captain add tad bronaugh had spnt -- had spent an hour and 20 minutes trying to land with no wheels. to no avail, he had no choice but to belly flop the plane with runners acting like a sled on to a concrete runway. in the final moments, the passengers were ready for the worst. like the other passengers, greg cohen had his head between his legs. what were the final instructions before landing?

>> they had us get in ready position, you know. they were telling us to brace for impact. praying to god that everything was going to be okay.

>> and then it happened. flight 16 touched down at more than 140 miles per hour. this is the moment of contact on the runway shot from inside the cabin.

>> and than -- then we touched down, the impact never came. i was waiting for this like car crash to be in an accident.

>> no bounce?

>> to be honest, it was one of the smoothest landings i've ever had.

>> incredibly, it was a smooth touchdown. a miracle in warsaw .

>> the plane came to a stop, and everybody roared with applause. [ applause ]

>> but it didn't last more than two seconds. you had the flight attendant immediately stand up and just yell, "get off this plane now!"

>> suddenly there was another danger -- there was smoke and a fire on the right side engine. passengers rushed for the emergency slides. and a few fell as they tried to run away . but emergency crews were able to douse the flames, and the fuel leak quickly. the plane didn't explode. except for a few scrapes and bruises, everyone got off unharmed.

>> i immediately -- i thought that our captain was poland's version of sully.

>> same incredible amount of airmanship.

>> yes.

>> what would you like to say to the captain?

>> i want to say thank you. if it wasn't for him, maybe 230-plus people wouldn't be here right now. and i'm forever indebted to him for that.

>> captain bronaugh is a polish national hero and has been honored for his heroism in the united states .