Most commercial jet landings are quite smooth, with pilots often having the space to “float” the plane over the runway and touch down as lightly as possible. However, on shorter runways, the priority is to land the aircraft as quickly as possible. On July 1st, 2022, a Southwest Airlines 737 hit the short runway in Santa Ana, California with such force that one of the flight attendants received a fracture to one of the vertebrae of her spine. Let’s look at this unfortunate incident…
The incident occurred on Southwest flight WN-2029 from Oakland International Airport to Santa Ana’s John Wayne Orange County Airport. The flight, operated by a Boeing 737-700 registered as N480WN, pushed back from the gate at Oakland at 15:51 local time and landed at SNA at 16:57, 13 minutes ahead of schedule. Immediately upon touching down, the flight attendant in question felt pain in her back and neck and was unable to move, and she had
to be evacuated by paramedics. At the hospital, doctors found that she had suffered a compression fracture to her T3 vertebra.
A report of the investigation into the incident was released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It states that, “According to the flight crew, they were flying a visual approach to runway 20R at SNA. They were aiming for the touchdown zone due to its short runway and trying to fly the aircraft onto the runway with minimal floating. However, it ended up being a firm landing. Shortly after exiting the runway, the flight crew were
informed that the “B” position flight attendant seated in the aft jump seat had injured her back on landing and required medical assistance.”
After securing the galley and preparing the cabin for landing, the flight attendant had sat down in her designated jump seat and secured her seatbelt and assumed the brace position. She relayed to the investigators that she felt the plane hit the runway so hard, she first believed it had crashed. There were 137 passengers and five crew on board the flight. No one else sustained any reported injury.
Meanwhile, the aircraft continued to its gate without further incident. Built to withstand fairly hard landings, the 737 did not sustain any damage or require maintenance. In fact, it was back in the air heading to Las Vegas a couple of hours later, albeit with an hour delay. Santa Ana’s John Wayne Orange County Airport has what is considered the shortest runway of any major airport in the US, measuring only 5700 feet (1738 meters). As such, pilots aim to bring the plane down on the ground as quickly as possible with minimal “floating” that would typically allow for a smoother landing. As a result, harder landings are not unheard of at this airport.
What do you think of this incident? Have you ever landed at John Wayne Orange County Airport? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!