Valley family's annual Thanksgiving trip involves unexpected landing



After an emergency landing for Southwest Airlines Flight 2896, Jimmy Leslie III, along with 10 other family members who were on board Wednesday’s flight from Cleveland to Chicago, have a little bit more to be thankful for.

The Mahoning Valley family — in various incarnations, of course — has made the annual Thanksgiving trip for at least the past two decades. But this was the first time that anyone had experienced anything out of the ordinary.

“I’ve had late flights, delayed flights, turbulence,” said Leslie, who coaches girls tennis for Cardinal Mooney High School. “But something like this makes you appreciate everything: family, vacations, the fact that we’re all healthy. It was a very quick, eye-opening kind of thing.”

The way Leslie describes it, the airplane was scheduled to land about 11 a.m.

But about 10 or 15 minutes after the scheduled landing time, the airplane’s pilot came over the loudspeaker and very calmly explained to his passengers that the plane was having some mechanical difficulties. It would have to endure a systems check, then would land, as scheduled, at Chicago Midway International Airport — albeit at a very high speed.

The pilot added, too, that emergency vehicles would be waiting on the runway, simply to make sure that the airplane’s braking system didn’t get too hot, Leslie recalled.

Even as the airplane circled Chicago until it got the go-ahead to land, Leslie wasn’t too worried. That is, until the plane began making its landing, speeding down the runway at probably twice the normal speed.

“We were coming in fast. The ground was just flying by,” Leslie said. “The landing itself wasn’t even that bumpy. But when we saw all these emergency vehicles lit up and lined up on the runway, we thought, ‘Maybe this was more serious than we thought.’”

Leslie added, too, that noticing how the airplane had stopped only feet away from the end of the runway was slightly unnerving. Still, most of the flight’s 129 passengers immediately began applauding upon touchdown, thanking the pilot and his crew profusely, he said.

Among those passengers were his wife, Melissa Leslie; their 4-year-old twins, Jimmy Leslie IV and Shayleigh Leslie; his mother and father, Jim Leslie Jr. and Marilyn Leslie; his two sisters, Sister Meg Leslie and Katie Cripe; his brother-in-law, Jay Cripe; and his two nieces, 14-year-old Emily Cripe and 11-year-old Grace Cripe.

“Ultimately, we landed safely. Everything was fine,” he said. “That’s what I want for the next flight.”

Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said the emergency landing resulted from a “minor issue” involving the Boeing 737’s flaps, which help to slow down the airplane. One side was different from the other, Landson said.

Despite the issue, the flight did land safely, without any injuries, Landson said. He attributed its safe landing to well-trained crews, who are prepared to deal with any scenario.

“We’re glad that our passengers were able to get to where they were going safely,” Landson said, “and that our crews were able to handle the situation with professionalism.”

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