WASHINGTON — Federal investigators say a mistake by the captain of an American Airlines flight caused the plane’s wing to clip the ground during takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2019.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the captain applied too much rudder power to offset a crosswind, causing the plane to veer to the left and almost leave the runway.
The pilots were able to take off, but the left wing of the Airbus A321 banked down by up to 37 degrees and struck the ground and a runway distance marker. Part of the marker was embedded in the wing, according to the report released Monday.
The crew knew that it was a close call.
“That scared the (expletive) outta me. I thought we were gone,” the co-pilot said once the plane was in the air, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder that the NTSB released.
“The (expletive) airplane just rolled on me, dude,” the captain replied.
The pilots, both of whom were 58 and had extensive experience when the incident occurred, are still flying for American, according to the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline.
Safety “guides every decision we make and action we take. We appreciate the National Transportation Safety Board’s thorough investigation and report,” said American spokeswoman Sarah Jantz. She said the airline was reviewing the NTSB’s report “and will closely examine if any changes are needed in training or procedures.”
The pilots cut short the Los Angeles-bound flight and returned to JFK. None of the 102 passengers or eight airline crew members were injured, according to the safety board.
Although there was a brisk crosswind at JFK on the night of the flight, it was below American’s limits for taking off.
The beginning of the takeoff seemed normal, but the crew was alarmed when the plane started to veer left. Both pilots seemed unsure of what was happening.
The sound of the wing striking the ground was captured on the recorder in the cockpit.
About seven minutes into the flight, the co-pilot suggested that they turn back to JFK. A minute later, the captain agreed.
A flight attendant called them and reported that a passenger sitting near the left wing said the wing “looks dented” and “doesn’t look normal.” The captain said the passenger’s report didn’t matter because they were returning to JFK.
The landing was uneventful. American Airlines workers later found a 323-foot-long scrape that the left wing made on the runway, the NTSB said.