U.S. accident investigators opened an inquiry Wednesday into an American Airlines Group plane that was damaged while trying to land in stormy conditions in North Carolina.
US Airways Flight 1851 hit airport lights and its tail scraped the runway in Charlotte on Saturday night after encountering wind shear, according to a release from the National Transportation Safety Board. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating.
The Airbus A321 suffered “substantial damage,” according to the safety board. The pilots aborted the initial touchdown attempt and climbed before landing safely. No one was hurt.
Wind shear accidents, which occur when sudden shifts in wind cause a plane to lose lift and plummet, were once one of the leading causes of aviation fatalities. Improvements in weather radar, wind sensors and pilot training have nearly eliminated such crashes.
The last such fatal accident on an airliner in the U.S. also occurred in Charlotte — on July 2, 1994 — when a USAir plane hit the ground short of the runway after passing through a downpour. The crash killed 37.
After landing Saturday, the captain discovered damage to the underside of the plane, which was reported to authorities, American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said in an email. The airline said the plane had 153 passengers and six crew members.
On the same day, an air traffic computer system in an FAA facility malfunctioned, limiting flights for hundreds of miles around Washington and causing thousands of delays and cancellations. The FAA announced Saturday that the system was operating by 4 p.m., although the disruption caused delays all weekend.
At about 6:34 p.m. Saturday, the flight from Atlanta to Charlotte “reportedly encountered wind shear on final approach,” the safety board said in its release.
The agency has obtained the plane’s crash-proof recorders with flight data and cockpit sounds.