Smith: Santa Rosa frequent flyer sensed the Southwest pilot in Burbank was landing ‘a bit too hot’

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Frequent flyer, crunchy snack-maker and former Clover Stornetta Farms exec Mike Keefer knows the Hollywood Burbank Airport, not as well as the back of his hand but well.

Well enough to know that, because of the Bob Hope Airport’s relatively short runways, airline pilots need to touch down with as much runway up ahead as possible and not dawdle before hitting the brakes.

Keefer was a passenger on last Thursday’s Southwest Airlines Flight 278 from Oakland. As the captain was just about to set down through the rain, Keefer said, “I could tell that he was coming in a little bit too hot.”

Moments later, the Boeing 737 with 117 people on board was scooting along the runway at a good clip. Recalled Keefer, “I was thinking to myself, ‘Why isn’t he hitting the brakes?’”

The aircraft was felt to hydroplane, thump and scrape before grinding to an abrupt stop. Dozens of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles appeared.

What had happened?

“They didn’t say anything for the longest time,” said Keefer, a Sonoma County native who flew south to sell Whole Foods on the Wild California crisps he and his partners make with Sonoma grape flour. “We must have sat there for a good 45 minutes or an hour.”

When at last Keefer and the other passengers deplaned down portable stairs, the severity of the situation hit home.

They saw the damaged plane had rolled off the end of the runway and into a buffer zone of easily fractured tiles that crumbled beneath the aircraft, stopping it from crashing through a perimeter fence and onto busy North Hollywood Way.

Evidently no one was hurt. Keefer has recovered from aftershock and is appreciating that Southwest refunded the passengers’ fares and presented them vouchers to fly wherever the airline goes.

Keefer’s thinking Nashville.


THANKS, MRS. EARL: Artist and retired SRPD lieutenant Tom Swearingen nodded as he read in Monday’s Press Democrat of Dan Earl and the revered choral director’s reflections on how teachers can powerfully affect students, for better or worse.

So true, Swearingen says. How well he remembers his first-grade teacher in the East Bay, Gertrude Earl — Dan Earl’s late mother.

Swearingen recalls her as remarkably patient, encouraging and confident that though he was a noisy, easily distracted 6-year-old familiar with the principal’s office, he’d go to college and do fine.

The Cal grad and ex-lawman did, and he’ll be grateful always to Mrs. Earl.


MUCH CREDIT for the return of Yuki, the Chihuahua lost at a Santa Rosa gas station by a visitor from Mexico, goes to volunteers with Josie’s Lost Dog Alert Facebook page.

Says the mission’s Laura Hall, “Nearly 9,000 members strong, our little group of volunteers works daily to help reconnect lost and found dogs throughout Sonoma County.”

Among the pets on the site is Lucy, the French bulldog whose distraught Santa Rosa family mounted one of most ambitious lost dog campaigns ever seen.


VETS SHOULD KNOW that members of the Sikh community will serve a vegetarian lunch at Tuesday’s Vet Connect gathering at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.

Lovingly prepared, lunch will be available to military veterans from 10:30 a.m. until it runs out.

You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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