An American Airlines jetliner carrying 124 passengers struck airport landing lights four feet off the ground while attempting to land in Harlingen, Tex., Friday night, but was able to regain altitude and fly away, federal and airline officials confirmed yesterday. There were no injuries.
Damage to the Boeing 727 was not discovered until after two more flights, the officials said.
C.R. (Tex) Melugin, southwest region administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, said Flight 844 "took out the first stanchion of lights, roughly 450 feet from the threshold of the runway." The plane then hit another stanchion about 200 feet closer to the runway before "becoming airborne again," Melugin said.
The incident occurred on the flight's third landing attempt, late at night in a "low [weather] ceiling," according to American spokesman Al Becker.
The flight then landed in San Antonio, where the passengers were placed on buses. The plane was flown empty to Dallas-Fort Worth airport, then carried passengers on a scheduled Saturday flight to Denver. There, Becker said, "Some cuts and abrasions to the airplane" were noticed by American Airlines cockpit crew members. The plane was immediately removed from service.
Becker said that the federally required crew member "walkaround" of the plane before the flights from San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth "simply didn't detect the damage." He said that American Airlines is investigating the incident, as is the National Transportation Safety Board.
The approach light poles at Harlingen are the breakaway type, which safety experts have recommended for years, but which are not installed at all airports.
Melugin said, "I assure you there's going to be a follow-up and that it will receive my personal attention."