America's Newest Hero: Capt. Jack Conroyd

Former Navy flyer instantly become most celebrated pilot since Sullenberger.

September 27, 2010, 2:23 AM

Sept. 27, 2010— -- He is credited with saving the lives of more than 60 people during a heart-stopping emergency landing at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport when the plane's landing gear failed to work properly. Meet America's newest hero -- Capt. Jack Conroyd.

Conroyd and his co-pilot Larkin Newby were identified as the pilots of the Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 4951 who executed an emergency crash landing on a JFK runway Saturday night, a senior Port Authority told ABC News.

None of the 64 passengers on board the CRJ 900 twin-engine jet were injured.

Conroyd declined to discuss his heroics when reached by ABC News today, and indicated any comments would have to wait until an investigation of what happened is concluded.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines is "extremely proud of the crew's actions," ASA spokesman Jerek Deem said.

The spokesman said its own internal investigation team was working with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Conroyd is in line to become the most celebrated pilot since Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger landed his crippled jetliner on the Hudson River in January 2009.

Sullenberger applauded Conroyd's landing, telling the New York Daily News, "I commend the crew for ensuring a successful outcome for everyone on board."

A former naval aviator, Conroyd, 55, has received a Bronze Star, a Navy Marine Commendation Medal, and five other awards. He joined the military in 1978 and was stationed in Japan and California, spending one year aboard the super carrier the USS Ranger. He obtained the rank of lt. commander and left the military in 1994 to begin a career in commercial aviation.

Conroyd's performance was also hailed by his neighbors in Lake Mary, Fla.

"He's great. He's a real nice guy," said Bill Faulkner who has lived across the street from the pilot since 1989. "It's pretty remarkable... You have no idea who you associate with and what great things they can do. He's the kind of guy I expected that from."

George Barth said he's often seen Conroyd in his pilot's uniform, and is delighted at his neighbor's success. "I'm very glad that he's okay."

Cell phone cameras captured the terror and fear of passengers on the Delta Connection flight that was forced to make an emergency landing Saturday night.

The flight was headed for White Plains, N.Y., from Atlanta when a malfunctioning landing gear prompted the pilot to divert landing plans to JFK.

The pilot told air traffic controllers that "the right gear is stuck up, the other two are down."

Controllers told the crew that "emergency equipment will be standing by midfield as a precautionary measure."

'Brace for Impact'

On board the crippled regional jet, some passengers prayed and others cried as the pilot prepared for the landing.

"I said my prayers, me and Artie held onto each other and it's time to go down," said one passenger.

Cell phone video captured the tense moments before the landing.

"Heads down, stay down, heads down, stay down," flight attendants shouted to passengers.

The plane landed on the left gear, and then slowly with the right wing lowered, it scraped the runway.

Sparks were visible through the window but there was no flames, no fire. No injuries were reported.

After the plane landed, passengers applauded and cheered.

To the passengers, it might have been considered a miracle but aviation experts said the pilots knew just what do.

"It was very good airmanship and frankly shows how resilient and how good aviation security is," said John Nance, aviation consultant for ABC News.

For flight attendants, their training was put to the test.

"They are taught to use their voice, be extremely affirmative, basically they become drill sergeants," said Nance.

The crew's professionalism is critical but planes have gotten increasingly safer with stronger seats, cabin material that doesn't burn as quickly to help ensure that even when something goes terribly wrong, passengers can have the greatest chance to walk away.

ABC News' Lisa Lampkin contributed to this report

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