|Passengers exit a WestJet Boeing 737-700 plane after it ended up in the mud when it went off the tarmac next to the Kelowna International Airport terminal Monday just before 8 a.m. Two large tandem tow trucks attached cables to its rear wheels and slowly pulled it back onto the pavement about 11 a.m. The 134 passengers and six crew disembarked with passengers booked on other flights or given hotel vouchers.|
"All of a sudden, the plane skidded," said Rich Teer, one of 134 passengers and six crew on Flight 150 to Edmonton.
"We didn't start moving straight away. Then the pilot comes on and says we've steered off the apron and the right wheel is bogged down in the grass underneath the snow. I guess we were on the plane for about half an hour while they tried to figure out how to get us out," he said.
"Then they came on and said 'Guess what? You're not going anywhere soon.' I was right in front of the wing so I had a pretty good view."
The official word from WestJet was that the nose wheel and the two main gear wheels on the right side of the aircraft slid off the apron at 7:58 a.m.
In fact, all of the aircraft's tires were stuck in mud. Its passengers, baggage, crew and fuel were removed to reduce the aircraft's weight. Then two large tandem tow trucks attached cables to the two sets of main landing gear, and the aircraft was slowly pulled back onto the pavement under the supervision of WestJet and Kelowna Flightcraft maintenance staff.
"There were no injuries. Guests were offloaded and taken back to the airport terminal to be re-accommodated on other flights and/or in hotels for the night," said a WestJet news release.
"The aircraft will undergo a maintenance check to determine if any damage occurred."
Teer, who was flying to Las Vegas via Edmonton, maintained his sense of humour, joking: "I rolled snake eyes apparently. But you know, you're travelling in winter from Kelowna. Sometimes, you win. Sometimes, you lose.
This is my fifth or sixth year and this is the only time I've been delayed. So what the hell."
Teer was thinking about cancelling his business trip since he was only planning to stay there until Friday.
"Tomorrow, the weather's going to be iffy as well so I'm thinking: "Well, I'll be going through exactly the same thing tomorrow, getting up at 4:30 a.m. for nothing."
Kelowna airport's director, Sam Samaddar, said: "I can't speculate on what exactly happened with the flight crew. Essentially, it was obviously snowing very heavily and we were under fairly low visibility conditions."
"Within an hour, we had the passengers off the airplane and they walked 200-300 feet back into the terminal building. Periodically this morning, we actually had the runway closed due to low friction readings. Visibility earlier was down to a quarter-of-a-mile so we can't have aircraft land obviously under those conditions. We've had some cancelled flights due to the weather."
Normally, an aircraft tug pushes the plane back and away from the gate, said Samaddar. "Then, the aircraft under its own power taxis out, In this particular case, the aircraft was taxi-ing under its own power when it went off the edge of the apron."
The apron had about 2.5 centimetres of snow "which is not unusual during a snowstorm," he said. Snow from the apron was piled at the edge of the apron and lights in operation there also mark the edge, he said.
"We're fortunate that we have two taxiway entrances into the apron itself. It has limited the use of one operational stand (parking space) but we obviously have surplus capacity."
After every incident, the airport conducts an investigation to determine what occurred, he said. "Part of our safety management system looks at: are there things that we can improve in the future. This has not happened before, not on the apron."
Robert Palmer, WestJet spokesman, said there was "a pretty good little storm" which would have obscured a double line showing the edge of the apron.
"Obviously, that will be something that we're looking at. It looks like he couldn't see where the tarmac ended and the grass started. I don't think there would be a normal procedure (for the pilot to ask for help staying on the apron.) We have not spoken to the pilot yet."
Due to the storm, WestJet cancelled four flights and delayed a number of others out of Kelowna International Airport on Monday morning, he said, including a flight to Phoenix. "It's not the kind of storm you guys see very often I guess."