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NTSB Joins Probe of Boston Airport Collision

July 18, 2011

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July 18, 2011

BOSTON – A collision between two airliners on a taxiway at Logan International Airport is now considered serious enough for National Transportation Safety Board investigators to get involved.

A person was taken to a hospital after the wing of a large moving passenger jet clipped the tail of a smaller aircraft in front of it Thursday night.

But it was the severe damage to one of the planes that caused federal investigators to elevate the seriousness of the collision, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

Both planes were taken out of service with visible damage. The wing tip of the larger aircraft was bent, while the smaller jet's tail was crumpled and bent.

The Federal Aviation Administration will assist the NTSB on the investigation, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said.

Investigators will review the flight data and cockpit recorders in both jets and recordings of air traffic control conversations and ground radar. They also will interview crew members on both planes, review weather at the time of the accident and conduct physical inspections of both aircraft, Peters said.

The probe could include drug and alcohol testing, he said.

The NTSB, Knudson said, is expected to issue within 10 days a preliminary report, which would not necessarily point to a cause.

The wing of Delta Flight 266, a Boeing 767 headed to Amsterdam, clipped the tail of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 4904, departing for Raleigh-Durham, N.C., at about 7:30 p.m., Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said. ASA provides regional air service for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc.

There were 204 passengers and 11 crew members on the larger plane, 74 passengers and three crew members on the smaller craft.

The Delta jet returned to the gate, and ASA passengers were transported by bus to the terminal. Some passengers were rebooked on other flights, while some had to spend the night in Boston.

Passengers said they were jolted but there was little panic.

Although there were some reports of screaming and crying, the pilots and most passengers remained calm.

In a recording of air traffic control communications, the pilot of the 767 says, "I think we hit the RJ (regional jet) off of our left wing."

"Did he hit you with his tail, his wing?" the air traffic controller asks.

The pilot of the smaller aircraft replies: "Absolutely he did."

One woman was taken to a Boston hospital after complaining of neck pain, airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said.

Jay Copan, 59, of Raleigh, N.C., was on the smaller plane, half asleep, when the impact jolted him awake.

"It wasn't that strong, but it was odd. Some people thought we'd run off the runway," he told the Boston Herald.

Kristian Bille, 46, of Denmark, was on the larger plane and told The Boston Globe: "The whole plane shook, and some people started screaming."

NTSB records show that there have been at least 10 collisions between large passenger jets during taxiing in the past decade. The accidents were caused by various factors including flight crews' failure to monitor and maintain adequate clearance while taxiing, planes parked improperly, airports not coordinating the taxi chart instructions with air traffic control and inadequate coordination between crew members in the cockpit, according to the online records.

Still, contact between airliners on taxiways and runways is rare, said Kevin Hiatt, a pilot and the executive vice president of the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent airline safety advocacy organization.

"Two airplanes coming in contact in this manner on a taxiway is not a real common occurrence," he said. "We see it more often on ramps, with what we call swapping paint."

The only other incident he could think of occurred at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in April, when the left wing of a massive Airbus A380 operated by Air France clipped a Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet flown by Comair, spinning the smaller plane nearly 90 degrees. No one was injured.

The JFK collision, however, is markedly different from the one at Logan. The New York collision occurred in the ramp where departing and arriving aircraft are serviced by baggage handlers, catering workers, fueling personnel and other ramp workers. The accident in Boston occurred on the taxiway, which is considered part of the airfield and is under the control of air traffic controllers.

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If you or someone you know has had their safety compromised on a commercial or private aircraft, contact the national aviation lawyers at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy.

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