Passenger Shares What It Was Like On American Plane That Had Wing Strike On Takeoff

Filed Under: American

Yesterday I shared the story of what happened to an American Airlines A321 last week that was scheduled to fly from New York to Los Angeles. Immediately after takeoff the plane banked uncontrollably 45 degrees to the left, causing the wing to strike a sign to the side of the runway.

The pilots didn’t initially realize what happened, but further into their climb they contacted air traffic control to return to JFK, and the plane landed without incident.

The NTSB is now investigating the incident, which sounded terrifying. I can’t imagine sitting in a window seat on the plane, and banking 45 degrees to the side just a moment after takeoff, all while seeing the wing strike a sign on the ground.

So, what was it like onboard? A reader who was booked on this flight and who also had a window seat on the left side of the plane has shared her experience with me:

I was a passenger on AA Flight #300 departing JFK to LAX. I also had the good fortune (obviously I’m kidding) of witnessing the wing scraping the ground, sparking and bending during takeoff. Takeoff was unusually aggressive and tilted forcefully on the left side of the plane causing the damage to the wing. Most passengers, including a friend I was traveling with, didn’t notice anything other than there was a violent takeoff. Most passengers who had window seats on the left side of the plane were freaking out, myself included (I thought we were going to be incinerated if the sparks turned into a fire, couldn’t believe we were in the air with a tattered, flapping wing and I didn’t call my mom before we got on the plane).

I was waiting for the pilot to make an announcement which didn’t come until we were 15 mins in the air. At that point, he announced that the emergency controls kicked in and it didn’t make sense to fly to LA in this condition. We returned to JFK safely and were going to be put on a different plane. Thank God no one was hurt. Very close call but very scary. I hope this answers some of the questions in your comments section. The situation was initially minimized but now that there is an ongoing investigation, I felt compelled to clarify a few points.

Once back at JFK, we were told that we would be leaving at 2am and to wait in the lounge. We had everything we needed. The flight was then cancelled for the night and scheduled to depart at 9am Friday morning. We were given vouchers for food, transportation and lodging. AA and the pilot handled the situation well considering that they likely didn’t know the severity of the situation at the time. Overall, I’m grateful we made it back in one piece. I’ll likely be seeing my shrink consistently over the next few months but I’m in good spirits considering.

It will be interesting to see what the NTSB report about the incident reveals. Kudos to the pilots for getting the plane safely back on the ground.

  1. “and I didn’t call my mom before we got on the plane…….” Are these now some actions to be taken just incase the flight does not make it?

  2. My question would be if everyone on the left window seats saw it, why didn’t anyone say something to a Flight Attendant? I would have been screaming bloody murder if I saw the wing hit something on takeoff.

  3. Kudos to the pilots for getting the plane safely back on the ground.????

    It’s like saying kudos to the arsonist firefighter for safely extinguishing the fire.

    Get real.

  4. @John – exactly what I was thinking. Lucky come on – something is fishy here. Planes just don’t roll over during their takeoff run. Why are you giving the pilots a complete free pass? Innocent until proven guilty I guess.

  5. “I hope this answers a few of the questions in the comment section.”

    Other than telling us what happened after the flight, this reader didn’t clarify anything we didn’t already know…

    Did people alert the FA’s to the damage and sparking?

  6. Is it possible that a heavy passenger moved to the left side before takeoff not notifying FA? /s

  7. @John:

    “It’s like saying kudos to the arsonist firefighter for safely extinguishing the fire.”

    This is extremely unfair. There are any number of reasons why the plane might have tilted to the left during takeoff. For instance, it was a windy day, and a strong gust could do this. Pilot error is a possibility, but your comment (“arsonist”) actually implies more than this – that the pilots damaged the plane on purpose. That is even less likely than pilot error.

    Until the accident has been thoroughly investigated, drawing conclusions is pointless. However, the pilots DID bring the plane back to ground safely and, from all reports, acted extremely professionally. So for that, they do deserve kudos.

  8. Cross winds, wake turbulence (despite him saying to ATC it wasn’t), mechanical, etc. There are many possibilities.

    Given the history of issues surrounding the unique side stick system on Airbus and how they are not linked between Captain and First officer I would imagine this will also be looked at. Captain Sully explains it in a video regarding AF 447 and also this video here explains really well how they are used and potential problems that can occur if there is poor cockpit communication.

  9. I’m having a hard time understanding the comment section of this site. Yesterday Lucky was questioning the pilots’ handling towards the incident, while a bunch of people screaming in the comment section criticizing Lucky for not recognizing the pilots’ professionalism. Yet today, when more information is available and Lucky starts to appreciate the effort of the crew, people all of a sudden begin blaming Lucky for giving the crew an easy pass. Come on you people!

  10. @Endre

    You are still alive. :p
    Was it you who move from your PAID Flagship FIRST CLASS 1F to 1A on this flight.

    Miss you

  11. @Stuart AF 447 crew was unprofessional and mishandled their situation where in this case the pilots were calm and collected.

    During the incident The captain of AF 447 was in the business class cabin mingling with his girlfriend and the second officer was clearly wet behind the ears.

  12. I have experienced significant tilt when landing due to high winds. So it is perfectly possible that was the cause. Seems to me it is fairly common for pilots to deal with this in windy situations. The pilots likely just thought it was the usual until they became aware of the wing damage. What more can the passenger say than he was there and it was scary?

  13. Another breathless report from a clueless child (he didn’t call mommy before getting on the plane) with no understanding whatsoever of how planes fly or what pilots do – same as Lucky.

    Please stop and let this go. Every time the idiots come out to comment on accidents and incidents and reveal their ignorance. Leave the analysis to the pros at the NTSB. Everything you see from those who know nothing about flying just adds noise and nonsense.

  14. As a retired flight attendant I’m very curious as to how the flight attendants performed. Did they notify the pilots of the damaged wing? CRM (Crew Resource Management) is extremely important in a situation like this when the cabin crew can see something the pilots can’t.

  15. “I’ll likely be seeing my shrink consistently over the next few months but I’m in good spirits considering.”

    Anyone, what is shrink referring to in this sentence?

  16. @Marco, my mom makes me text her whenever I get on a plane and land, and often calls sometime before I take off. I’m 33. It’s completely irrational (especially considering I live 1,000 miles away and do things that are statistically more dangerous everyday without her knowing), but I do it because it’s minimal effort on my part and it makes her feel better. I think if I were in this situation and this was the one time I didn’t talk to my mom before a flight, I’d probably be thinking the same thing.

  17. KM, “shrink” is a slang term for a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.

  18. Anna, it is human nature to call loved ones before take off or immediately after landing. I am no debating that. It is the way the sentence ended that made one feel had this person not call their mom it might not have happened. You have to read the whole sentence :). Also which grown adult refers to the mother as mommy except someone young person or child.

    Dennis you understood what I was saying lol. Yes seems to be SOP. There will announcements soon from the flight deck. “This is your Captain speaking. The Purser has informed me that not all passengers have made their pre-take off calls. This flight will be delayed till all calls are completed. Thank You”. Things happen!!

  19. Norris’ post will serve to decrease respect for pilots, just the opposite of his intent. That sense of superiority and authoritarianism is a well known contributing factor in many crashes.

  20. Huge service failure by AA once back on the ground.

    Given what was known to have happened, one would think they’d either

    a) follow through and operate the second flight. Surely it was known if crew were available and a/c. Catering they could have done without except for beverages

    b) settle on the morning departure and clear everyone out early.

    I’d be furious to sit to 2am and then cancel.

    For the record, I have an airline background including ops. While it was a difficult situation as AA was dealing with a serious incident (airport ops, maintenance, FAA, NTSB etc) and pulling a flight together late at night, they surely could have determined relatively quickly if they could follow through.

  21. @D3KingAmerican

    I was not implying that the situation was the same as AF 447. I am saying that if you watch the video with Sully explaining what happened in the cockpit on that flight he goes into great detail on the benefits and failings of the side sticks used by Airbus. As well, he perfectly points out that “if it had been a Boeing and a synched system AF 447 would never have gone down.” Why? Because both pilots were inputting separately and countering the other with their side sticks due to a complete breakdown of CRM.

    The video I shared here goes through the use of the side stick from a technical standpoint. And points out the uses, as well as the ability to excessively pitch and roll an Airbus if used incorrectly.

    Finally, the Captain of AF 447 was on his slotted duty rest at the time. All reports were that he was sleeping in his bunk. Not sure how you decided that he was flirting with the flight attendants in the cabin.

  22. @Stuart I heard the captain of AF447 did have a companion flying with him and it is believed that he may have been with her during the flight.

  23. I have no idea if this is true or not what you say…but so what? He was on his slotted break as mandated. If he had been sleeping, which he may have been, would that make it better for you?

    Bottom line is that two pilots who had been well trained, had many hours, and should be fully capable flew a perfectly good airplane into the ocean. Why? Because of faulty readings due to AF ignoring a mandated replacement of a faulty pitot and the complete breakdown of CRM which ended up resulting in the side stick system of an Airbus adding to the confusion.

    I am sorry we got here as I was using AF 447 as an example of how the side stick can contribute to compounding issues in the flight deck for whatever reasons may be. Regardless, I hardly think the Captain of this flight should be dissed as to neglecting his duties whilst, as you speculate, he may have been schmoozing in the cabin. He was rightfully taking his scheduled break whatever he was doing.

  24. It’s high time Airbus fixed the joystick issue so both pilots know whose inputting controls at any given time to prevent these issues.

  25. When both pilots use the sidestick at the same time the inputs are additive and the aircraft announces “dual input”. Additionally a set of lights in front of the pilots depict who has priority and whether the other stick is active. Priority is also announced.
    Dual control in the airbus is a weak design area without a simple solution. Much simpler with linked controls.
    That said, the sidestick is decidedly superior in almost every other aspect.

  26. Sounds to me like a smear campaign from Boeing trying to move attention from the Max mess to Airbus!

  27. “I was waiting for the pilot to make an announcement which didn’t come until we were 15 mins in the air.”

    Just a quick reminder for all reading this and think communication is routine in an emergency. It is NOT. Be lucky you got anything. Three golden rules of aviation in an emergency are, in order:

    1. Aviate. (In simple terms, keep the aircraft in the air!)
    2. Navigate. (Control its direction and destination)
    3. Communicate. (First with towers, control centers, etc.)

    Only after all three of the above are fully under control may you, as a passenger, have the privilege of hearing from the cockpit about the situation. 🙂

  28. Sounds to me like pilots too aggressive with the stick and also too high angle of attack caused left wing to stall and hence the roll. Poor piloting in my opinion.

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