Grateful passengers praise Air Transat pilot

Passengers and airline praise Transat pilot for handling of emergency landing on Toronto-to-Lisbon flight

Tired, shaken and thankful to be alive, most of the passengers from Air Transat Flight 236 completed their journey from Canada to Portugal Saturday.

Officials have begun an investigation into why the jet sputtered out of fuel over the Atlantic early Friday.

The powerless plane, carrying 304 passengers and crew, came close to plunging into the water. But the pilot managed to glide the powerless aircraft safely to a U.S. military base in the Azores Islands, about 1,450 kilometres from Portugal.

Fewer than a dozen people were slightly hurt as the A-330 Airbus bounced down on the runway. Others were injured sliding down emergency ramps. A few with broken bones remained at a hotel on Terciera Island.

But most passengers walked away unscathed, and ended up taking a boat to another airport, where they caught a second plane that took them to Lisbon early Saturday.

'That pilot should be praised'

When they arrived in Portugal, many passengers once again called the pilot a hero.

"I've said this before, I believe that pilot should be praised because he did something great," said Agostinho Romeiro, 57, of Bradford, Ont.

In an interview with CBC Newsworld Saturday, Romeiro described the panic that swept through the jet when people were told the plane might be ditched in the ocean.

Although the cockpit crew was credited with quick thinking, he said not all Air Transat employees handled the pressure well. The flight attendant nearest to him, for instance, appeared to snap.

"She was asking me and another gentleman, 'Please help me, please help me'," Romeiro recalled, and it made the ordeal even more unnerving.

After the plane's engines stopped the final descent was eerily quiet, passengers said. They spent several minutes in the dark, gliding on rolling air currents, unaware of what was waiting for them below.

In a news release issued Saturday, Air Transat commended Captain Robert Pich, 49, and First Officer Dick Dejager, 28.

"It seems clear that our pilots did an outstanding job," said Denis Jacob, the company's president. "Because of their professionalism, flying skills and training, our pilots handled a most difficult situation ... We salute the entire crew."

Alfredo Cruz, a commander at the air force base where the jet landed, also credited the pilot for preventing a tragedy.

Until an investigation into the accident is complete, Air Transat has been ordered to change its overseas routes. Two-engine jets are now required to fly further north, closer to airports in places like Greenland.