On 3 June 2018 an American Airlines Airbus A319 (N806AW) made an emergency landing in El Paso after hail shattered the windshields and damaged the nose cone, flight AA1897 was heading to Phoenix from San Antonio. Six hours later the 130 passengers continued their journey to Phoenix on board a company Boeing 737 (N929AN). Jess Esparza was on board with his girlfriend Massiel Tinoco, and he wrote a “trip report” that we would like to share:
No one should ever have to experience what Massiel and I went through last night. I never thought I’d have to buy in-flight WiFi to message my mom goodbye. Seeing the fear in Massiel’s face while I had panic attacks knowing there was nothing we could do but sit there praying that we make it through.
Those of you that fly, know that they hand out refreshments and crackers shortly after taking off. That never happened. They made an announcement, “Due to turbulence, the flight attendants will postpone refreshments until there is no more turbulence. Please remain in your seats.” After that announcement, I look out the plane window and see that it’s getting cloudy. Nothing weird about that. Turbulence is normal and we’re in the sky so clouds are normal.
Then the turbulence gets bad. The plane is rocking side to side and the lady behind us gets sick and uses her paper bag. I think, “Oh great. This lady is going to ruin this flight.” -that was the least of my worries. The plane gets even worse and I look outside and see darkness. Like just plain dark grey clouds and flashes of lightning. Babies start to cry. That’s when I have my first panic attack. I look forward and see some teenagers raising their hands as if we’re on a roller coaster. That actually sheds light on the situation knowing not everyone was freaking out.
Then we drop. We dropped so hard that objects in people’s laps start flying inside the aircraft. My seatbelt is pulling against my waist keeping me in my seat. Massiel is crying. Babies screaming. I start hyperventilating. I grab my phone and sign on to the WiFi. I text my mom that I love her. The lady behind us is screaming that she needs another bag to throw up in. Even the flight attendants are freaking out. One guy gets up, “I need to use the restroom!”
“Sir you need to return to your seat right now!” The captain goes on the intercom. He’s cutting in and out. No one can understand him. Minutes later the flight attendant goes on the intercom and says, “Sorry about that. The captain was hard to hear. Everyone needs to remain in there seats. This is for your safety. Also please open your air vents to increase ventilation.” .. “What did she say?” “I don’t know, open the air thingy??” “Why what the f*** is going on??” Those are some of what was said around us. Everyone can hear the hail hitting the plane. It doesn’t sound good. Everyone is trying to keep their balance. More passengers are throwing up. Everyone needs bags. I hand my throw up bag to the lady behind me and see another woman handing her infant baby to a stranger so she can throw up. I’m holding onto Moss and she’s holding onto me.
After about what felt like a lifetime, around ten minutes pass. The turbulence is still present but nothing compared to how it was. The intercom comes on. The captain says we’re doing an emergency landing in El Paso because the windshield has damage and just for safety precautions. Everyone thinks it’s just a little crack in the windshield.
They said we’re ten minutes out of El Paso and will land soon. That didn’t happen. We kept flying for another 45 min. Multiple people are still sick. We didn’t know this at the time but we were flying in circles because the pilots couldn’t see through their windshield because of the damage and they needed guidance landing. Once we finally land, we see ambulance, fire trucks and multiple police vehicles. Why? No one knows why. When we finally landed, we all clapped. Like in the movies. We all became plane-clappers. Then intercom again, “Because of visibility issues, the pilots can’t drive the plane to the port. We’re waiting on a tow truck to pull us to the dock. Everyone is talking amongst each other asking how did we land then if they can’t even drive to the port??”
No one knew the extent of the damage until we finally got off the plane. Everyone was shocked that we survived. We don’t know for sure what happened but from what we heard, it was the hail storm. Everyone was calling their families. The pilots landed the plane blindly. They did an amazing job landing the plane. We finally made it home. I don’t think I will be traveling anytime soon. Maybe not at all. I don’t think I can handle something like that again.
Follow the (terrifying) track of American Airlines Flight 1897 dodging destructive hail storms before a forced landing at El Paso #Texas on June 4th. Path mapped on #GOESEast/#GOES16 imagery by @UWSSEC colleague Rick Kohrs. #AA1897 pic.twitter.com/b4grNpIh6M
— UW-Madison CIMSS (@UWCIMSS) June 5, 2018