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Sinkhole near runway disrupts traffic at DFW

Crews survey a 25x25 foot sinkhole between runway 18L and taxi way F at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. The sinkhole closed the runway.
Crews survey a 25x25 foot sinkhole between runway 18L and taxi way F at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. The sinkhole closed the runway. Star-Telegram

Hundreds of flights were delayed at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Tuesday after one of its four main runways was shut down because of a nearby sinkhole.

Airport airfield inspectors found the sinkhole in a grassy area between a taxiway and runway 18L, which sits just west of Terminals B and D, airport spokesman David Magaña said in a statement. The sinkhole, estimated at 25 feet by 25 feet, is toward the south end of the runway.

“Crews discovered that a section of a storm drain had become dislodged from the main storm drain line, creating erosion of the soil around the storm drain,” Magaña said. “The engineering analysis determined that the integrity of the runway itself is intact, and the runway was unaffected by the soil erosion.”

The runway reopened about 6 p.m.

Construction crews will excavate and repair the storm drain starting on Wednesday morning. The runway will not need to be closed to complete the repairs, Magaña said.

Air traffic controllers routed arriving and departing flights to alternate runways at the airport to keep delays at a minimum throughout the day, said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. Although 18L is a heavily used runway — one of the four longest at DFW — the airport has seven runways and room to move flights around.

According to Flightstats.com, DFW had 231 delayed arrivals and 218 delayed departures as of 4 p.m. By the end of the day, the airport said it had 280 delayed departures but only 48 were due to the sinkhole problem.

American Airlines, the largest operator at Dallas/Fort Worth, also had over 200 flight delays across its network, mostly caused by weather.

“We have seen a few delays because of the runway closure at DFW Airport, but the delays are minimal as we have other runways that we can use,” said American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely.

Natural sinkholes, caused when water breaks down underground limestone or carbonate soils, are commonly found in Florida. However, sinkholes have occured in the San Antonio region because of subsurface limestone layers washing away, said Anand Puppala, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The sinkhole at DFW Airport is an artificial sinkhole caused by water-induced erosion near a pipe or a drain, Puppala said.

“It is most likely a pipeline break or leak that could have triggered it,” Puppala said. “With the water we’re getting, it is causing the ground to move and it could cause significant shifts or changes which can cause a collapse in the soil.”

Earlier this month, a 40-foot sinkhole opened up in a grocery store parking lot in Granbury, partly caused by the collapse of a storm drain.

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

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