Plane diverts to DIA after ‘tail strike’ during takeoff from Yampa Valley Airport

The FAA and NTSB are investigating but report no injuries

The first passengers on a JetBlue Airways Corp. Airbus A320 plane arrive in Hayden from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2018, the first year JetBlue serviced the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Michael Egan was returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last Saturday, Jan 22, after hitting the slopes in Steamboat Springs, but, as his flight accelerated toward takeoff, something wasn’t right.

“There was a very loud crashing sound from the back of the plane, a bit of yelling and then we banked to the right,” Egan said. “The plane shuddered a bit, and it was very frightening.”

But Egan said shortly after takeoff they were airborne — seemingly flying without issue — and there was no immediate word from the cockpit about what had happened.

The JetBlue Airways Corp. plane, flight number 1748, experienced what is called a tail strike, where the back end of the plane contacted the runway when increasing the angle of attack before take off from Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have opened investigations into what each agency is referring to as an “accident.” The FAA reports no injuries among the 108 people on board.

After flying at altitude for a bit, Egan said the pilot came on the intercom to explain what had happened and inform passengers the flight would divert to Denver International Airport to have the tail inspected.

Egan said the pilot told passengers there was another much smaller plane landing in the opposite direction that pilots were not aware of, which required them to perform an “emergency take off,” leading to the strike.

Neither the FAA or NTSB acknowledge the existence of another plane nearby in the accident investigation notifications, though information in these reports is limited. In a statement, JetBlue said its plane was taken out of service and inspected.

“We will assist (NTSB) in every way possible as they investigate,” JetBlue spokesperson 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 got on a new plane for the rest of the trip to Florida, Egan said. The FAA accident notification classifies damage to the 162-seat Airbus A320 as “substantial.”

Egan said he eventually arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 3 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 23, after leaving Hayden the day before. According to passengers who were on the flight, it departed shortly before noon on Saturday, Jan. 22.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth said, from his vantage point, it looked like when the plane reached take-off speed, the nose of the plane rotated up too much, though Booth said the pilots in the cockpit would have the best view of what happened.

“I wasn’t in the cockpit,” Booth said, “It looked to us like he brought the nose up too high. The nose comes up, the tail goes down, and the tail looked like it brushed the runway.”

Booth said there was another plane coming in the other direction, but he didn’t think it would have impacted the JetBlue plane’s departure.

According to FAA flight data, the smaller plane was about 2.85 nautical miles away from the runway at 7,500 feet when the larger jet left the ground. When the smaller plane landed, the jet was about 2.2 nautical miles past the end of the runway, climbing through 8,800 feet, according to flight data.

After inspection, Booth said there was no damage to the runway. This is the first NTSB accident investigation involving the Hayden airport since 2013.

Egan said he flies a lot and loves flying with JetBlue. He feels the pilots did the right thing by not telling passengers what had happened until starting the decent into Denver.

“If he had announced that we had a tail strike (right away) and had to be inspected, it would have freaked me out,” Egan said. “I’m happy to be on the ground.”

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