Flybe plane passengers 'saw wheel fall off'
Passengers who saw a wheel fall off a plane as it took off did not immediately inform the crew, a report has said.
The accident happened in March on a Flybe flight from Exeter to Newcastle.
The captain returned to Exeter and used the emergency brake and "significant amounts of right rudder" to safely land the plane. No-one was injured.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said the wheel's outer bearing had seized.
A mayday alert was sent to air traffic controllers and after circling the airport for more than an hour, the 39 passengers on board the Bombardier Q400 were "evenly distributed" in the brace position as the captain attempted to land the plane.
'Left wing down'
As it touched down, it veered to the left but the captain was able to hold the aircraft steady and the passengers were able to disembark through the front left door.
The AAIB report said the wheel's outer bearing had seized and "consequential damage had allowed the wheel to detach".
Some passengers saw the wheel fall as the plane's landing gear retracted just after take off, but "they did not inform the cabin crew at this point", the report said.
Air traffic control contacted the flight crew and when the captain asked the senior stewardess to inspect the right landing gear area, she was then told of the loss by passengers.
The decision was taken to return to Exeter using the "alternate landing gear extension" procedure.
The co-pilot contacted the airline's chief pilot by radio and it was agreed that the crew would use a "left-wing-down" technique ensuring the left main wheels touched down on the runway first, with the remaining right main wheel then being lowered onto the runway as gently as possible.
The AAIB said that the captain had inspected the right main landing gear before the flight and had not noticed any abnormalities.
The report said: "Given the nature of the bearing failure, it is unlikely that any (abnormalities) would have been visible.
Several safety actions had been initiated following the incident, the AAIB report concluded.