Southwest Jet Loses Wingtip in LaGuardia Brush Up

Some Christmas fliers got their wings clipped -- literally.

Two jets at New York's LaGuardia Airport got a little too close for comfort Tuesday morning, with one ripping the wingtip off the other. No passengers on either plane were injured.

American Airlines Flight 1104 from Dallas was taxiing to its gate just before 11 a.m. as Southwest Airlines Flight 449 to Denver was departing.

The left winglet -- a vertical fin at the tip of a wing designed to improve airflow and fuel efficiency -- was ripped off the Southwest plane after it made contact with the American jet's left horizontal stabilizer, part of the tail. Both planes were Boeing 737s.

American spokesman Joshua Freed said in an email that the airline's plane "was taxiing with the help of ground personnel walking near each wingtip." Southwest refused to say if the airline also had workers on the tarmac assisting its pilots, or if that was required by company policy. Its flight left the gate 23 minutes late and there was a light rain at the time of the accident.

The 143 Southwest passengers and five crew members exited the jet via stairs and were then taken by bus off the tarmac. The aircraft was taken out of service for inspection and repairs. Southwest is finding alternative ways to get the passengers to their destination, according to spokesman Brad Hawkins.

The American plane, with 143 passengers and six crew members, made it to gate D7 and passengers left the aircraft via the jet bridge. The plane will be kept in New York overnight for inspection. A replacement jet was used to make the trip back to Dallas, a flight that was delayed about three hours.

“It was a really uneventful flight - nice and smooth - perfect flight and perfect landing,” said Michael Oppedisano, a Dallas dentist who was on board the American Airlines flight.

“And then, all of a sudden, you felt a significant jolt,” he explained. “This was just like an impact and a push, so the plane physically moved sideways, you could feel the tires dragging.”

Eventually, a set a stairs were brought to his plane, and soon after the passengers exited.

“We landed early but ended up staying on [the] plane for another 45 minutes until they were able to get us off,” Oppedisano said. “The FAA didn't want them to move the plane anymore.”

The Southwest jet moved out of the taxiway on its own power, according to Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. Marsico said there are no other delays because of this accident and that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

NBC 5's Ray Villeda contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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