This is Part Two of a three-part post about a single flight from Eagle, Colorado, to Newark, New Jersey, with an unscheduled stop in Albany, New York. Read Part One here. Part Three will appear next week.—Ed.
Thirty minutes after diverting to Albany, New York, we turned final for the ILS 19 at ALB. The visibility had dropped to minimums for the approach, and it was raining. The altimeter was continuing to drop, but the ride on final was surprisingly smooth. The EMB-145 in front of us got in, which was good news. That said, we were primed for a go-around, which would have necessitated at Category II approach on the second try. This was my leg, so I adjusted my seat in order to give myself the best view of the approach lights as soon as possible.
The captain continued making his calls. At 1,000 feet above the airport, I asked him to set the missed approach altitude. I also reviewed the calls for the missed approach out loud for both of our benefit. The 500 foot call is basically an awareness call, and I verified it with a quick glance at my altimeter. Through 400 feet, 300 feet…the captain called “Approaching minimums.” My eyes were fixated outside. Still no ground contact. My hands were ready to disconnect the autopilot and autothrottles, and I quickly did one more mental review of the process.
Suddenly, right in front of us, just as I was turning off the autopilot, the lights came into view, as bright as a Christmas tree. That bought me another 100 feet of legal descent. The autopilot and autothrottles were both off, the runway came into view, and I made one of my better landings.
Now we were up against another clock. Newark was dealing with regular arrivals as well as diversions like ours trying to fit into the arrival flow. Two of us—one flight attendant and me—were potential pumpkins when it came to our duty times. Factoring into this is a cosmic law known as last day/last leg, which states that a trip will go absolutely smoothly until just that time. For reasons known only to the aviation gods, our ACARS (Aircraft Crew Alerting and Reporting System), the computer that communicates with all departments of the company, decided to go on a bit of hiatus. We couldn’t get all of the data we needed to leave. Actually, we couldn’t get any of it. We needed V-speeds, weights, single-engine departure procedures—we needed everything.
Several phone calls between the captain and dispatch took care of most of the issues, and we sorted through the rest on our own. The tower had negotiated an earlier release time for us, and we went to the runway to wait it out. The passengers, meanwhile, were getting antsy. We’d already lost three whose final destination was ALB, and a few more were just running out of patience. We were told to finish taxiing to the runway, but we still had one engine shut down and data to input. I was working as fast as I could.—Chip Wright