March 18, 2014

Plane loses wing panel during flight

Logansport man had a window seat view

By Amie Sites

---- — David Watterson was dozing off during a flight when he says he heard what sounded like a “mini explosion.”

When the Logansport resident looked out his window, he noticed a panel on the wing was missing.

The Logansport resident was one of 179 passengers on the Delta Flight 2412 that lost part of its wing Sunday. The Delta Air Lines 757 — traveling from Orlando, Fla., to Atlanta — lost part of its wing mid-flight in Atlanta.

Flight officials had just announced the plane was in its initial decent, Watterson said.

“The plane didn’t shudder or change its course,” Watterson said. He then pushed his call button to alert the flight attendant something had happened. An official with the flight was then escorted to the window to observe the missing panel.

The pilot announced there was a problem and that they were evaluating it and then said we would be landing in about 20 to 25 minutes, Watterson said.

“Anyone in front of the wing never saw it,” Watterson said. “If anything, it probably sounded to them like landing gear going down a lot louder than normal.”

The incident, involving the 4-foot-by-8-foot panel coming loose mid-flight, is under investigation by Delta Air Lines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Delta Spokesman Anthony Black told Bloomberg News the pilot had declared an emergency prior to the landing.

Black also told NBC News that “The crew…followed procedure by declaring an emergency to air traffic control as they were landing, which game them priority clearance to land and alerted ground crews.”

“It’s remarkable how calm everyone was — no one panicked,” Watterson said. “Maybe if I stood up and yelled part of the wing came off it would have been different, but I didn’t think we were in immediate danger.”

The Delta flight crew were professional and stayed calm and helped everyone else on the plane stay calm, Watterson said.

Although the flight landed safely, the crew was not able to steer the plane after landing and it had to be towed in.

Watterson, vice president of sales at Mountville Mills Inc., told ABC News he noticed a section of the plane’s wing was exposed and hydraulic fluid was leaking.

Watterson had been watching his son, David, who plays golf for Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, compete in Orlando. He was traveling from the men’s golf competition when part of the wing came off.

After sending the picture of the exposed wing to his son Zachary, who tweeted it, national news organizations began reaching out to speak to Watterson. Watterson said he had been flying standby and ended up in the window seat by the wing. The missing panel was probably 10 feet from Watterson, he said.

Black told CNN the incident was “highly unusual” but said “the problems with the wing did not affect the plane’s ability to fly.

Watterson commented that another person from the flight who was interviewed said everyone was panicking which “just didn’t happen.”

“I don’t want this to happen again, but I never really thought, ‘wow, this is it,’ ” Watterson said. “I thought everyone seemed to be stable and it obviously had a good ending.”

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.