I suppose all is well that ends well, though at a minimum this is a strange occurrence.
Swift Air 737 lands with tail part missing
Airplane spotter Doug Kempf photographed planes landing at San Diego Airport on runway 27 this past Tuesday, May 19, 2020, and spotted one particularly strange landing. A Swift Air Boeing 737-800 landed with a part of the vertical stabilizer missing.
N820TJ Boeing 737-8Q8 operating as Swift Air/iAero Airways SWQ3518 landing KSAN runway 27 on 19 May 2020. I would have discarded this photo except for the tail. Evidently it is airworthy. #avgeek #planespotting pic.twitter.com/Tnfk7osdF8
— Doug Kempf (@dougkempf) May 20, 2020
For what it’s worth, the plane in question has registration code N820TJ, which is a ~22 year old plane that entered service in 1998 (and has flown for a long list of carriers).
Swift Air (now officially iAero Airways) is a charter airline with a fleet of over 30 Boeing 737s. The airline operates all kinds of charter flights, including for sports teams, tour operators, and even deportation flights.
What exactly happened, though?
When I first saw this picture I thought to myself “well, I guess the plane is airworthy even with a lower part of the vertical stabilizer missing, and they determined it was safe to fly.” But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The plane was operating flight 3518 from Victorville to San Diego, which was a short 41 minute flight. While Victorville is often known as a graveyard and store facility for planes, this plane wasn’t coming out of storage — the same day the plane had flown from Phoenix to Denver to Victorville.
Perhaps Swift Air was contracted to fly workers to & from Victorville? We don’t actually know if there were passengers on the flight to San Diego.
What we do know is that the plane took off from Victorville with the tail fully intact, meaning that the damage occurred inflight. The crew apparently wasn’t aware this happened until after landing, though the plane hasn’t flown since.
A part of a Boeing 737 tail came off mid-flight, and the crew apparently wasn’t aware. Thank goodness it wasn’t a more critical part of the tail that fell off.
I’m not sure how much danger the plane was (unknowingly) in, though I would think there’s some risk of a part hitting the vertical or horizontal stabilizer and causing more damage.
I’ll be curious to see what an investigation reveals…