Shocking Cabin Video: Airbus A320 Suffers Major Damage In Tail Strike

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Photo By Bill Word via flickr.com of the actual accident airplane on an earlier flight. 

Last week, a JetBlue Airbus A320 was taking off from Yampa Valley Regional (serving Steamboat Springs area ski resorts) in Colorado headed for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it suffered a tail strike on departure. Some are suggesting the accident—there was substantial damage—was related to the lack of a control tower at the airport.

Yampa Valley, which has major airline service to numerous locations around the United States servicing ski tourists this time of year, is an uncontrolled field. This means, as pilots are well aware, that the aircraft going in and out make their own call on how to enter or depart the traffic pattern around the airport. They communicate their intentions on a common frequency, referred to as the Unicom, assigned to that airport. More on that in a bit.

The pilots, according to reports on several local news and airline-specific sites, didn’t know that the plane had suffered a tail strike on departure. But that’s hard to jibe with this shocking video taken by a passenger of the takeoff roll. The tail strike was dramatic, unmistakable as something bad happening. Could the pilots have missed it? After all, they were, about a hundred feet forward of the tail when it hit the asphalt. Still.

It was sure no mystery to ground crew, who found evidence—yikes—of the strike still on the runway. They contacted ATC, which relayed the concerning info to the crew, who elected to reposition to Denver International, which has a longer runway and greater emergency and maintenance services than Yampa Valley does.

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Upon landing uneventfully, crews inspected the plane and found what the NTSB is calling serious damage. No telling at this point if it was structurally compromising damage, which can be a tough call to make, but it’s concerning, nonetheless.

Back to the departure. As the A320 was taking off from Yampa Valley on Runway 10, another airplane, a much smaller twin turboprop Beechcraft King Air, was coming in for landing on the same strip of asphalt but in the opposite direction—which would be called Runway 28—just remember that it’s not a separate piece of real estate, just the same strip of runway landing in the opposite, oncoming direction.

So, speculation is centering on whether the departing Airbus, seeing the approaching King Air, which is reported to have been at 900 feet AGL as the Airbus was rotating, expedited the rotation to avoid the oncoming traffic and hit the tail. While there’s no confirmation that this is what happened, the NTSB will surely be taking a close look at it.

And as far as the legality of the operations… there’s no FAA requirement for any planes coming into or out of an uncontrolled field to even talk on the radio, but in practice, nearly all of them do report their own position. Did anyone fail to make a position report that would have been helpful to other traffic, and how did a plane on short final not see an Airbus on the roll in the opposite direction?

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We’ll keep you updated on where this one goes.

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