Michael Egan was returning to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last Saturday, Jan. 22, after hurtling down the slopes of Steamboat Springs, but, as his flight accelerated toward takeoff, something was wrong.
“There was a very loud crashing noise from the rear of the plane, a bit of shouting and we banked to the right,” Egan said. “The plane shook a bit, and it was very scary.”
But Egan said shortly after takeoff they were airborne – apparently flying smoothly – and there was no immediate word from the cockpit as to what had happened.
The JetBlue Airways Corp. plane, flight number 1748, suffered what is known as a tail-end collision, where the rear of the plane touched the runway while increasing the angle of attack before the take off from Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have opened investigations into what each agency calls an “accident.” The FAA reported no injuries among the 108 people on board.
After flying a little high, Egan said the pilot came on the intercom to explain what had happened and let passengers know the flight would be diverted to Denver International Airport to have the tail checked.
Egan said the pilot told passengers there was another much smaller plane landing in the opposite direction that the pilots were unaware of, causing them to perform an “emergency takeoff”, leading on strike.
Neither the FAA nor the NTSB acknowledges the existence of another aircraft in the vicinity in accident investigation notifications, although the information contained in these reports is limited. In a statement, JetBlue said its aircraft had been taken out of service and inspected.
“We will assist (NTSB) in any way we can as they investigate,” JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski said in a statement to Steamboat Pilot & Today.
The JetBlue plane, named “The Blues Were Made For Flying,” landed safely in Denver and passengers boarded a new plane for the rest of the trip to Florida, Egan said. The FAA accident notification classifies the damage to the 162-seat Airbus A320 as “substantial”.
Egan said he finally arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 3 a.m. on Sunday, January 23, having left Hayden just before 7 p.m. the day before.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport manager Kevin Booth said that from his perspective, it appeared that when the plane had reached takeoff speed, the plane’s nose had rotated too much, although Booth said the pilots in the cockpit would have the best view of whatever happened.
“I wasn’t in the cockpit,” Booth said, “It looked to us like he had put his nose too high. The nose was up, the tail was down, and the tail looked like it was skimming the runway.
Booth said there was another plane coming the other way, but he didn’t think that would have impacted the departure of the JetBlue plane.
According to FAA flight data, the smaller plane was about 2.85 nautical miles from the runway at 7,500 feet when the larger plane left the ground. When the smaller plane landed, the jet was about 2.2 nautical miles past the end of the runway, climbing to 8,800 feet, according to flight data.
After inspection, Booth said there was no damage to the track. This is the NTSB’s first investigation into an accident involving Hayden Airport since 2013.
Egan said he flies a lot and loves flying JetBlue. He believes the pilots did the right thing by not telling the passengers what happened before they began the descent to Denver.
“If he had announced that we had a tail shot (right away) and had to be inspected, that would have freaked me out,” Egan said. “I’m happy to be on the pitch.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email [email protected]