Flight 5349 was cruising at about 30,000 feet when the window broke, pilot Stephen Bittman said. The aircraft landed shortly after 8 a.m. It was scheduled to arrive in St. Louis at 8:40 a.m., Bittman said.
"Just all of a sudden I heard a loud bang and the window was shattered," he said.
The window did not break completely and the cabin did not lose pressure, Bittman said. "It happens," he said. Bittman said he had't ever experienced a similar incident.
The twin-engine jet was carrying 41 passengers. After they were unloaded, some described a whistling sound for the last 10 minutes of the flight and praised Bittman for being calm and keeping the passengers from panicking.
"The pilot was awesome," said Sinceria Haynes, a nanny who was traveling from New Orleans to Dayton, Ohio, with her daughter Shaundra to visit her son. "He kept everyone calm even though they knew something was wrong."
Just minutes after the American Connections flight landed, the regularly scheduled Great Lakes Airline flight from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis returned to the airport because of reports of smoke in the passenger cabin. After the three passengers on board the 19-seat flight were unloaded, an inspection of the aircraft showed that the smoke was actually water vapor condensing in the humid airplane as a result of the air-conditioning system, said Monica Taylor, the marketing director for Great Lakes.
Many passengers settled in for breakfast at the airport restaurant, began calling family to report the delay or started looking for alternative transportation to their destination. Several passengers paid $201 for a ticket on the Great Lakes flight, expecting to be reimbursed later by American Airlines.
TSA officials on the ground at the airport told passengers a bus was being brought from Carbondale, Ill., to take them to St. Louis. Some passengers were told that they should book rental cars and seek reimbursement because American Airlines flights to their final destinations were booked through this afternoon.
Haynes was not one of those able to afford a second ticket to continue her flight. "I really don't feel like shelling out any more money," she said.
The flight was about 130 miles south of St. Louis when the cracks appeared in the window, Bittman said. The airplane was scheduled to continue from St. Louis to Philadelphia and return to St. Louis if it had not been diverted, he said.
All the passengers said people remained calm. Ken Grant of Waunakee, Wis., was traveling back home from a business trip to New Orleans when the windshield cracked. "It was really calm," he said. "I didn't know anything was wrong until the pilot said we were landing."
Michael and Peggy Cardella are jewelers and they were flying to St. Louis on business. They were philosophical about the delay. "What can you do?" Michael Cardella said.
Bittman said he did not know what caused the window to crack. The airplane was flying too high to hit a bird, he said.
Several Cape Girardeau police officers and Tom Beardslee, chief deputy from the Scott County Sheriff's Department, responded to the airport. Beardslee said the response was quick and showed good preparation. "It is good to have everybody here and not need them than to need them and not have them here," he said.
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