Southwest plane's wing clips American plane's tail at LaGuardia

LAGUARDIA AIRPORT -- Two planes collided at LaGuardia Airport in New York. No one was injured, but the incident made for a messy start to a busy holiday travel day. The Southwest and American airlines planes were taxiing when they clipped at 10:49 a.m.

No injuries have been reported.

The Southwest plane, Flight 449 to Denver, had 143 passengers on board, while the American plane, Flight 1104 from Dallas, had 149.

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.

"It is very difficult though from a cockpit to look back and see where your wings are," retired pilot J.P. Tristani said. "That's why between the pilots and the ground control, the positioning and the taxiing instructions have to be adhered to exactly...and the pilots must constantly be aware of other aircraft movements."

The FAA released the following statement: "The wingtip of Southwest 449 and the tail of American Airlines 1104 made contact at LaGuardia Airport at 11:49 am today. Both aircraft are Boeing 737s. Southwest 449 was on Taxiway A preparing for departure and American 1104 was taxing to the gate. The FAA will investigate."

No passengers on either plane were injured.

"LaGuardia Airport is...a very tight airport to taxi around because there are lots of ground movements," Tristani said. "This isn't JFK or Newark. Taxiing around LaGuardia Airport requires considerably more diligence than would be at a much large airport with considerably more taxiways."

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."

The Southwest passengers and 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 made it to gate D7 and passengers left the aircraft via the jet bridge. The return flight to Dallas has been delayed at least 3 hours.

"It's a big deal because you have material damage," Tristani said. "You have pilots that are going to be under investigation, they are required to be responsible for the movements of the aircraft. You're going to have ground control, did they do the right thing?"

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.

American Airlines statement:

"American Airlines Flight 1104 was taxiing to its gate at LaGuardia Airport when its left horizontal stabilizer and the winglet of a moving Southwest Airlines 737 made contact. No injuries were reported on the American Airlines flight, which had originated at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The contact happened at 11 a.m. ET. The American Airlines 737 had 143 passengers and six crewmembers on board. Everyone exited the plane normally through the jetbridge. The plane is being evaluated. Passengers for its next planned trip are being accommodated on a different aircraft."

Southwest statement:

"The wingtip of the aircraft operating Southwest Airlines Flight #449 departing from New York LaGuardia to Denver came in contact with another aircraft that was awaiting a gate. The 143 Customers onboard Flight 449 deplaned the aircraft via air stairs and were bussed to the terminal where our Teams are working to get them to their destinations. The aircraft involved has been taken out of service for inspection and repairs. There are no reported injuries among the Customers and five Crewmembers."

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