July 4, 2022

File this both under “terrifying” and “all’s well that ends well.”

Envoy Embraer E175 loses part of wing during turbulence

On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, American Airlines flight 3729 was supposed to operate from Charleston (CHS) to Dallas (DFW). The flight was operated by American Airlines regional subsidiary Envoy, using an Embraer E175 (which is a lovely regional jet in general). The nearly six year old plane had the registration code N233NN.

The plane encountered some moderate to severe turbulence while cruising at 36,000 feet near Birmingham, Alabama… and then the plane lost part of its wing. Specifically, the right winglet (the end of the wing that “bends” up) fell off. Pilots immediately declared an emergency, and the plane landed in Birmingham about 35 minutes after the initial incident.

American ended up sending in a plane for stranded passengers, which made it to Dallas around four hours late. The original plane involved in the incident continues to sit on the ground in Birmingham. Below you can see some pictures of the winglet… it literally looks like it was cleanly chopped off, basically.

For context, below is what the winglet is roughly supposed to look like on this jet (in the below case it’s a special heritage livery plane).

American Eagle Embraer E175 winglet

The incident is now being investigated, though here’s what the initial FAA notice about this stated:

AIRCRAFT ENCOUNTERED MODERATE TO SEVERE TURBULENCE AND POST FLIGHT INSPECTION REVEALED A PIECE OF RIGHT WINGLET MISSING, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

This isn’t supposed to happen

Flying is incredibly safe thanks to the number of redundant systems in place when things go wrong, and also thanks to investigators learning from every incident, and implementing changes to mitigate risk going forward.

The thing is, some incidents are bound to happen and are fairly common, purely due to the number of flights that operate. This could range from engine failures, to smoke alarms, to injuries due to turbulence. But a part of the wing falling off during turbulence? That’s something you don’t often hear about.

Obviously this is incredibly alarming and concerning, and I’m sure a thorough investigation will be conducted to determine the root cause of this. At the same time, it’s also kind of reassuring that part of a plane’s wing can fall off at cruise altitude, and the plane can still land safely without any injuries.

Bottom line

On Tuesday an Embraer E175 regional jet lost its winglet during turbulence. The plane ended up diverting to Birmingham, and landed without further issues. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story like this before, and I’m curious to see what the investigation reveals.

It’s interesting how little media attention this story has gotten so far. I’m sure it would be a different story if this happened on the Boeing 737 MAX…

What do you make of this American Eagle winglet incident?

(Tip of the hat to The Aviation Herald)

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