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Associated Press
This photo provided by Mike Schroeder shows an emergency chute after it inflated inside a United Airlines jet en route from Chicago to California. The plane landed safely in Wichita, Kan.

It’s a trip on the wild slide

No one injured after jet’s evacuation chute inflates mid-flight

– An evacuation slide inflated inside a United Airlines plane as it flew from Chicago to Southern California, filling part of the cabin and prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Kansas.

Passenger Mike Schroeder said he was sitting in the front row of the plane bound for Orange County, California, late Sunday when he heard a hiss and pop behind him.

Schroeder, 58, turned around and saw the Boeing 737-700’s evacuation slide inflating. The slide – which would normally inflate outside the plane in an emergency – filled the galley.

“I thought to myself, ‘I hope there is no one in the restroom because if they are they’re not coming out for a long time,’ ” he said in a telephone interview.

United Airlines officials said in a statement that no one aboard Flight 1463 was injured.

“There is no lever or button to push to directly deploy the slide,” said Patrick Smith, a longtime commercial pilot, host of website AskThePilot.com and author of “Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.” That, he said, all but rules out “any sort of prank or intentional act.”

He said if there is an emergency landing or another emergency that requires a quick evacuation, opening the doors will cause the slide to deploy outside the plane so passengers and crew can slide down.

He said that occasionally in a non-emergency situation, a crew member will forget to disarm the mechanism that triggers deployment of the slide, causing it to inflate as the door is opened. But because there is no way to open a door while a plane is in flight, he suspects a mechanical malfunction caused the latest incident.

Smith said the slide inflating in such a small area could be harmful to anyone in the immediate vicinity, but that the slide does not inflate with enough force to “push through the side of the cabin.”

Schroeder, a lawyer from Newport Beach, California, said he was surprised at how calm all the passengers were, with many – himself included – snapping photos of the slide with their cellphones.

“When the pilot came out right after landing he said, ‘Oh golly, I’ve never seen that before,’ ” Schroeder said.

United said the plane would be flown without passengers to a larger airport for a complete inspection to determine how and why the slide accidentally deployed.

In November, a JetBlue flight from Florida to Boston had to be diverted when a slide partially deployed toward the aircraft’s galley. And in 2008, a plane carrying then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made an unscheduled stop after the emergency slide in the tail cone deployed during a flight.

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