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NTSB Launches Investigation After American Airlines' Plane Wing Scrapes Ground on Takeoff

April 18, 2019
3 min read
NTSB Launches Investigation After American Airlines' Plane Wing Scrapes Ground on Takeoff
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On April 10, American Airlines flight 300 rolled sharply to the left side during takeoff from New York's JFK airport, causing the wing to come in contact with a sign on the ground. The plane, bound for Los Angeles, climbed to 20,000 feet before pilots radioed air traffic control to request a return to JFK to "have it checked out." The flight landed safely 29 minutes after takeoff.

The incident received little attention at the time, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Wednesday afternoon that it's launching an investigation into the "accident." And newly unveiled photos of the incident shows why the air crash investigators are considering this an accident. The contact between the Airbus A321's wing and the ground sign caused significant damage.

In a statement from the NTSB, investigators confirmed that the aircraft's wing struck a runway distance marker:

NTSB is investigating the April 10, 2019, accident at JFK International Airport, New York, involving an American Airlines A321, operating as American Airlines flight 300, which experienced a roll during takeoff and hit a runway distance marker with the left wingtip.

The NTSB is assigning a team of six investigators including experts in "vehicle recorders, flight ops, aircraft systems and performance." As the accident occurred more than a week ago, the scene of the accident has surely been cleaned up. At this time, the NTSB notes, it isn't planning to send investigators to the scene.

On the night of the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) noting that a runway distance marker was "missing" after the incident -- which indicated at the time that the aircraft struck the sign:

!JFK 04/160 JFK RWY 13R 9000FT DIST REMAINING SIGN MISSING 1904110725-1905250200
!JFK 04/158 JFK RWY 31L 5000FT DIST REMAINING SIGN MISSING 1904110513-1905250200

These signs usually stand less than 5 feet in height and a significant distance from the center of the runway, indicating that the aircraft was tilted heavily to the left side and significantly to the left side of the runway.

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The weather reports at the time of the incident indicate that the aircraft shouldn't have experienced enough of a crosswind at takeoff to cause a sideways movement. The wind was blowing in from the northwest (330 degrees on the compass) and the aircraft was taking off on runway 31L, with a compass heading of 310 degrees, meaning the aircraft would be heading almost directly into a 17mph wind. Nothing out of the ordinary, in other words.

A statement from an American Airlines spokesperson only references that "the aircraft struck an object upon departure" and that the airline is cooperating with investigators. The airline reports there were 102 passengers and 8 crew members on board the flight at that no injuries were reported. The passengers were accommodated on a makeup flight that departed 13 hours later.

The aircraft involved in the accident is an Airbus A321-200 arranged with three classes (first, business, economy) for premium transcontinental flights, referred to as an A321T by the airline. The premium-heavy configuration is arranged with only 102 seats -- 10 first class, 20 business class and 72 economy -- meaning that the flight was full for the six-hour flight to LAX.

The damaged aircraft is registered as N114NN, a 5-year old jet. It hasn't flown since the incident over a week ago.

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