As they gazed out of the plane window shortly after take-off, they were no doubt expecting to see little of note besides the scenic countryside below.
But passengers on the Flybe flight from Exeter to Newcastle were in fact faced with a terrifying sight – as one of the plane’s wheels dropped off in front of them.
After one of the travellers raised the alarm, the crew decided on a plan to land them safely back at the Devon airport.
They faced an agonising wait as the plane circled the runway for more than an hour to burn fuel, with some passengers sending goodbye messages to their family.
However, they needn’t have feared the worst, for the plane eventually touched down safely and all 39 passengers and four crew members escaped uninjured.
A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch later revealed that the incident, on March 3, was caused by the wheel’s outer bearing seizing, allowing it to detach.
The wheel, one of two on the right side of the plane, dropped off as the Bombardier Q400’s landing gear retracted after take-off.
Several passengers witnessed the wheel fall, the AAIB said, with some later reporting that they had seen ‘little sparks’ coming from it and a ‘large piece of metal’ protruding from the undercarriage.
Martin Brown, 30, of North Tyneside, was on board the plane and alerted cabin crew after seeing the wheel fall off.
He said: ‘I looked out of the window and saw one of the wheels fall so I said to my colleague next to me “I don’t want to worry you, but I think I might have just seen the wheel come off” and we called the cabin crew over.
‘Then there was an announcement from the pilot to say there was a problem with the aircraft.
‘Luckily there was an aircraft technician onboard and he had a look and told the pilot what was wrong.’
A mayday alert was sent to air traffic controllers, as it was decided the plane should return to Exeter Airport and the co-pilot contacted the airline’s chief pilot by radio.
It was agreed that the crew should use a ‘left-wing-down’ technique to land the plane safely. This meant ensuring the left main wheels touched down first, with the remaining right wheel then being lowered as gently as possible.
After more than an hour circling to burn fuel, the captain took the plane down for landing and, though it veered to the left, he was able to hold the aircraft steady and the passengers were able to disembark through the front left door.
Christine Jackman, 28, of Newcastle, was returning home on the Flybe service from a four-day business trip.
The mother-of-one said: ‘It was horrendous. I sent a text to my partner and son telling them how much I loved them because I thought it might be the last thing I would do.
‘It was just sheer shock...When we landed, [the crew] were shouting “keep your heads down” and that was the worst part.
‘That’s when I started crying. It was horrific.’
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.’