Chicago O’Hare International Airport continues to play catch-up after snow, ice and wind wreaked havoc on its runways Monday, resulting in an American Airlines flight skidding off a runway and into a median, scraping its right wing tip on the snow-covered ground.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Tony Molinaro confirmed in a statement to USA TODAY that “the aircraft’s right main landing gear collapsed” during the landing. An FAA investigation into the incident is underway, Molinaro added.
American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz told USA TODAY that 38 passengers and three crew members from American Eagle Flight 4125 from Greensboro, North Carolina, were deplaned via bus and safely in the terminal. No one was injured.
However, the record early-season snow – 3.4 inches fell at O’Hare – continued to impact the airport’s operations for much of the day. Canceled flights in and out of O’Hare hit 1,200 and the delays numbered nearly 900 that evening per FlightAware.
By 7:30 a.m. EST Tuesday morning, the airport had mostly recovered and those figures had plummeted to 83 cancellations 67 delays.
Twitter users circulated footage of the incident, which shows the plane skidding into the median. Once it came to a stop, a woman can be heard saying, “I think we landed!”
Another video shows a first responder speaking to passengers on the plane. In the clip, he tells them that ambulances are available for anyone who needs one and advises them not to take their belongings with them when leaving the plane and that their belongings will be brought to them.
Photos also showed what passengers saw as they disembarked.
Passenger Shaun Steele told ABC7 Chicago that the plane was actually on its second landing attempt when the skid occurred: “The first one, we went back up after we noticed conditions were bad. We made a loop for about 20 minutes… As soon as we landed, we could start feeling something a little off there and we tried to do a little turn and that’s when we started going sideways.”
FlightAware data confirms Flight 4125 got as low as 625 feet before picking up altitude and climbing back up to 5,000 feet as the plane circled back for another try. It spent nearly an hour and 15 minutes taxiing because of the skid.
In very inclement weather with slick taxiways, the chances of a plane sliding off the paved surfaces increases, USA TODAY aviation expert John Cox said.
“It can be safe to operate the aircraft based on previous reports but flight crews may still find that the taxiway is slicker than anticipated due to changing conditions,” he said. “Pilots taxi very carefully when conditions exist where sliding is possible.”
He added: “Runway conditions can change quickly, requiring judgment and experience by the pilot to determine whether it is safe to proceed. This system has worked very well for many decades to ensure the safety of landing aircraft.”
And while snowplows and de-icing equipment are helpful, they’re not silver bullets.
“Ground crews do a wonderful job of clearing snow and ice from the surfaces, but there are limits to what they can do,” Cox said.