Flight bound for St. Petersburg forced to land in Georgia after possible fire

Passengers were expected to arrive at their destination by bus early Monday morning

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor , Amanda Stanley

ALBANY, Ga. - More than 150 passengers made it off an Allegiant Air jet that made an emergency landing at a south Georgia airport, authorities said.

Police in Albany say they responded to reports of a possible fire in the cargo department of the plane shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday.

Concerns about the possible fire led the plane -- Allegiant Air flight 863 -- to make an emergency landing at Southwest Georgia Regional airport in Albany.

"Our tower was closed, our airline had gone home, TSA had gone home, everyone had gone home, so our public safety officers responded to the scene," said Airport Director Yvette Aehle.

Passengers learned there was a problem when a harried flight attendant announced the plane was making an emergency landing, The Tampa Bay Times reported. The jet then made an "incredibly sudden stop" at Albany's small airport, said one passenger, retired Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeff Testerman.

"Not knowing what was going to happen next, we didn't know if it was going to be a safe landing or a horrendous landing. We didn't know where we were going down," said one passenger.

"It was wild. I mean, I stayed calm somewhat, but I could tell that once we stopped, people were very panicky, wanting to get to that exit right away," said another passenger.

Passengers were told to leave their belongings on board and slide down chutes that deployed at the front and back of the plane, he said.

All 155 passengers and 6 crew members got off the plane safely, WALB-TV reported.

"The pilots had an indication of a possible fire in the cargo hold," Allegiant spokesman Brian Davis said. "In an abundance of caution, they made the decision to land and get everyone off the plane."

It wasn't clear late Sunday whether there actually had been a fire.

The plane had taken off from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was scheduled to land in St. Petersburg, Fla., Davis said. Officials were planning to transport the passengers by bus to St. Petersburg, Davis said.

Albany is about 180 miles south of Atlanta.

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