FL - Jet blamed for metal debris dropped over Miami

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By Jose Dante Parra Herrera and Ken Kaye Sun-Sentinel Posted July 18 2001

As Yasmin Diaz-Lara arrived at her job near Miami International Airport on Tuesday, she did not discount the chance of an afternoon thunderstorm.

But as she walked through the parking lot, it was metal, not water, that fell from the sky. And it came from a passing airliner, not a cloud. I told some customers who were coming out of the store: "Look what's happening with that plane. It's going to have an accident. Then something hit me on the shoulder and I saw like a rain of lead falling and bouncing off the cars," said Diaz-Lara, a salesperson at El Dorado furniture. "I just ran and hid under a plant."

Airport officials and police said it appears the debris came from a TWA jetliner with engine problems. Airline spokespeople said it is too early to say whether their plane dumped metal over the furniture store, but acknowledged one of their flights returned to the airport with engine problems.

All 98 people on board made it back safely and no one on the ground was seriously injured.

Diaz-Lara was not sure whether it was a chip falling straight from the plane that hit her, or one that ricocheted off something on the ground. But she is sure a plane was dropping metal pieces all around.

Her only injury was a small burn on her hand when she tried to pick up one of the hot pieces off the parking lot. At least six cars were damaged, some with cracked glass and scratches and others with holes punched through the windshields.

El Dorado employee Blanca Molina said she was inside the store when she heard an explosion-like sound coming from the roof. Everyone went outside and she noticed a crack on her windshield and debris scattered in the parking lot.

Airport officials said about 2:30 p.m., about the same time Diaz Lara got pelted, New York-bound TWA Flight 004 called the control tower. The pilot said one of his engines was faltering and needed to turn back. The plane swung around and looped over the furniture store and landed safely on the nearby runway, said Alicia Diaz, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Aviation department.

"The reports about debris have come out independently," said Diaz. "This just sort of coincides with the timing."

Diaz-Lara said National Transportation Safety Board investigators collected a bag full of debris they took back to their labs. George Prellezo, NTSB spokesman, could not be reached for comment.

TWA officials would not confirm either whether their plane was the one raining parts. TWA spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross said one of their planes did turn back to Miami after the pilot noticed engine problems.

"We had reports that debris fell into a parking lot. We currently investigating to see if it had anything to do with our flight," Bishop-Cross said.

The incident occurred on a TWA MD-83, a twin-engine jetliner that was scheduled to go from Miami to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with 93 passengers and five crewmembers, Bishop-Cross said.

Shortly after takeoff, the pilot got an indication of engine trouble, she said.

"He powered back and decided to return to Miami as a precaution," Bishop Cross said.

While it is extremely rare, jet engines have suffered internal mechanical failures, resulting in parts flying free from the engine casing.

In at least two cases, those failures have resulted in fatal accidents:

On July 19, 1989, a large rotor severed three hydraulic systems in the center engine of a United Airlines DC-10 in Sioux City, Iowa. Of 296 on board, 111 were killed and 47 were seriously injured. On July 6, 1996, the left engine of a Delta Air Lines MD-88 blew apart during takeoff from Pensacola Two passengers were killed and two others were seriously injured.

At least twice before in South Florida, jet parts have fallen from the sky but injured no one.

In September 1999, parts fell from a Continental Boeing 737 as it took off from Palm Beach International Airport, hitting homes and roads in a West Palm Beach neighborhood. In May 1992, a Continental MD-80 taking off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport rained parts on a nearby warehouse district and ignited a minor brush fire.


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), July 18, 2001

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