A plane heading to Miami with Miami-Dade County's superintendent and a U.S. congressman on board made an emergency landing Thursday night.
American Airlines flight 3454, which departed from Tallahassee, made an emergency landing in Tampa after Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho heard a loud boom and then smelled smoke in the cabin, he told Local 10 after arriving at Miami International Airport on Friday morning.
Carvalho said he was "grateful and relieved" to be safe on solid ground after the mid-air scare about 30 minutes into the flight.
Passengers said they heard the pilot announce the emergency landing and warned them to brace for impact.
"When they said put your head between your legs and brace yourself," that's when passengers got scared and started praying, Carvalho said.
Also on board was U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and his wife, as well as several people returning from the latest legislative session in the state capital.
Carvalho said a 19-year-old Florida State University student from South Florida sat beside him on the plane. They comforted each other as they prepared for the worst.
"I put my arm around her, I held her hand, and I told her, 'You're about my daughter's age. You're going to be OK,'" Carvalho said.
Data from FlightAware.com shows the plane dropped 10,400 feet in a minute.
The plane landed safely at Tampa International Airport. Once they were safe, Carvalho and Diaz-Balart posed for a "selfie."
Carvalho said it's an experience he hoped not to have.
"But when you do, it really puts things back into focus," he said.
American Airlines said a unit used to cool and heat the plane malfunctioned, causing the smoke.
Passengers were provided hotel accommodations and re-scheduled for flights leaving Friday morning or given the option of traveling to Miami by bus.
Diaz-Balart and his wife drove the rest of the way to Miami.