Northern Ireland news

‘Rocky' actress Geraldine Hughes tells of emergency on Belfast flight to New York

Bombardier worker Brenda Mellon, left, Catherine Doherty from Derry and Hollywood actress Geraldine Hughes who were seated together on flight UA76 which had to make an emergency landing at Shannon Airport. Picture by Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association 
Lesley Anne McKeown and Ed Carty, Press Association

A HOLLYWOOD actress penned a farewell note to her partner as the transatlantic flight she was on made an emergency landing.

The United Airlines service from Belfast to the US on Monday was forced to divert to Shannon Airport after pilots raised concerns that the landing gear could not be locked in place for a touchdown.

Flight UA-76 from Belfast International Airport to Newark took off at 11.10am but declared an emergency a short while later and circled over the west coast of Ireland for about two hours to burn off fuel before landing safely just before 2.30pm.

Geraldine Hughes, who starred in Rocky Balboa and Gran Torino and several Broadway shows, revealed she wrote the message on her phone as pilots made the approach to Shannon.

The Belfast-born star said: "It was awful. It is amazing what this sort of situation does, because we knew for two hours that maybe the landing gear wasn't going to work and we kept hearing this noise.

"At a certain point I got through to texting, when we were at a lower altitude, and when my other half texted me, I lost it - I started to cry. The possibility was that we may not make it.

"I wrote him a goodbye note. I composed a goodbye note on the notes section of my iPhone.

"The thing about our life is, I always tell him what I am feeling. And I just thought, 'well I don't want to leave those things unsaid'.

"I didn't send it but I told him I wrote it and he said he doesn't ever want to read that note."

The actress had been visiting family in Belfast - her first non-working visit home in years.

Hughes was one of many passengers who spoke of their relief after the flight touched down safely, and cabin crew were praised for their calm and professional approach to the emergency.

Hughes added: "It's terrible for people who weren't on the flight.

"As soon as we landed my sisters and everybody were texting because it was on the news. But it was awful, really awful.

"At one point they said make sure your passports are in your pocket and we were thinking is that for ID purposes.

"You don't actually realise until you are off the plane and then you think that could have been really bad.

"But the crew were fantastic - I trusted every single one of them that they would take care of us. And it was the smoothest landing ever - it was crazy."

The flight made a low fly-past at Shannon before making a final approach and landing.

Passengers were told to brace for the landing while those sitting at exits had been briefed on how to assist with an evacuation.

The landing at Shannon was described as smooth and uneventful with emergency crews including firefighters stationed on the runway.

The service was subsequently cancelled.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the pilots reported a warning to air traffic control before diverting to Shannon.

Paul Eurich (47), a member of the US Army, was one of a number of people enlisted by the cabin crew to help in the event of an emergency evacuation on landing.

He was returning home after visiting his daughter in Belfast.

He said: "I was just told about going through procedures of opening the door. I was to go down first and assist people off while another guy stayed up top.

"I was not very worried to be honest. The entire crew were very professional - calm, relaxed and they kept passengers informed and calm. I was happy to help."

The US under-18 women's national soccer team was also on the Boeing 757, returning home after competing in the Women's International Cup in Northern Ireland.

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