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Jets crash on Logan taxiway

At least one passenger is injured; FAA is investigating cause

July 15, 2011

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This story was reported by Travis Andersen, David Abel, and Chelsea Conaboy of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Taylor Miles and Derek Anderson. It was written by Abel.

A large Delta jet preparing to take off at Logan International Airport for a trip to Amsterdam last night struck a smaller jet, slicing through its tail and leaving at least one passenger injured, authorities said.

The impact on Taxiway B jolted passengers and drew more than a dozen emergency vehicles.

“The whole plane shook and some people started screaming,’’ said Kristian Bille of Denmark, 46, who was on the flight bound for Amsterdam.

Bille said when he looked out the window he could see one of the wings was badly damaged. He said crew members on the plane tried to calm those who were crying and screaming.

William Robb of Chapel Hill, N.C., 42, who was on the smaller jet, Atlantic Southeast Flight 4904 heading to Raleigh-Durham, said, “It felt like being in a car wreck. The back of the plane got knocked from left to right, about 10 feet.’’

It was unclear last night how the crash happened, and authorities were unable to provide additional details. The incident was under investigation.

A Boston Emergency Medical Services ambulance transported one woman with minor neck injuries to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Jim Peters, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said Delta Flight 266, a Boeing 767, was taxiing for departure at about 7:40 p.m., when the left wing hit the Canadair Regional Jet 900, which had 74 passengers and three crew members aboard. There were 204 passengers and 11 crew on the flight to Amsterdam.

The planes were on taxiways that run nearly perpendicular to each other. The larger plane was moving; the Atlantic Southeast flight was stationary. The Atlantic Southeast flight was operated by Delta.

It was not clear last night how much damage either plane sustained.

“We’re sending somebody to begin the investigation,’’ Peters said.

In a recording of air traffic control communications posted last night on LiveATC.net, a pilot in the larger jet could be heard telling the controller that his aircraft just struck the smaller one.

“Did he hit you with his tail - with his wing?’’ the controller asked a pilot in the Atlantic Southeast plane.

“Absolutely he did,’’ the pilot responded. We’re holding.’’

When the controller asked the pilot in the larger plane to taxi back to the terminal, he said, “We’d prefer the trucks just come out and take a look before we move.’’

After doing a systems check, the pilot on the smaller plane reported it had lost its hydraulic system and had limited braking abilities. He told controllers he could not taxi back to the terminal.

As the controllers sent fire trucks to the scene, one asked another person on the radio if he could see anything leaking from the plane.

“We’ve got severe damage to the tail and excessive hydraulic leakage,’’ he responded.

Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Logan Airport, said such incidents are rare.

“Maybe once in the 32 years that I’ve been here, two planes clipped each other,’’ he said. “It doesn’t happen a lot.’’

Logan Airport has a history of near misses between aircraft on busy runways.

A federal study released in 2007 ranked Logan fourth in the nation in so-called runway incursions, the close calls involving planes that nearly collide or take wrong turns on the tarmac.

Logan had at least 117 incursions between 2000 and 2010, with at least 11 last year, according to the FAA. In one incident last September, the pilot of an Airbus A319 made a wrong turn and proceeded on a closed taxiway, despite directions he received from the control tower.

In the 2007 report, the Government Accountability Office counted 30 near-collisions - the most dangerous type of runway incursion - at Logan between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal 2006, including several incidents that the FAA designated as serious, “where collisions were narrowly or barely avoided.’’

In the report, Boston ranked behind Los Angeles International Airport, O’Hare in Chicago, and Philadelphia International Airport in what investigators then said was a growing rate of near-collisions that they attributed to overworked controllers, increased air traffic, and waning safety efforts by the FAA.

The most serious near-collision at Logan occurred in 2005 when an Aer Lingus Airbus and a similarly sized US Airways jet took off about the same time from different runways, missing each other by about 300 feet, MassPort officials told the Globe last year.

Orlandella could not provide runway incursion numbers for this year yesterday.

Last year, to reduce the possibility of collisions, Logan became the nation’s first airport to introduce an elaborate, $3.6 million system of lights and radar designed to prevent such collisions and close calls.

The new Runway Status Lights system uses a series of incandescent red lights embedded in the pavement to warn pilots when it is unsafe to enter, cross, or proceed down a runway. The new system uses data from ground-based radar, transponders aboard airplanes, and other sensors to issue direct warnings to pilots about potential incursions or collisions.

After yesterday’s crash, FAA officials said neither of the planes will fly until they are inspected. Passengers were being booked on flights last night and today. The 767 taxied back on its own power and the regional flight was towed to the hanger.

The left wing of the 767 and tail of regional jet clipped each other. Weather was not a factor.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency will investigate the actions of the pilots and air traffic controllers, the planes, and other factors.

“We’ll just try to understand everything that led up to that moment in which the collision occurred,’’ he said.

Knudson said the agency aims to have a preliminary report about the cause of the incident within 10 business days and investigators will download the voice and flight data recorders.

He called such an incident between two planes on the ground “a relatively rare event,’’ though two planes collided at New York’s Kennedy airport in April. One of the planes involved in that incident had just arrived in New York from Boston. That was also a Delta plane.

Atlantic Southeast spokeswoman Allison Baker said the airline operates as Delta Connection, a regional partner contracted to fly certain flights.

In an e-mail, she said the 74 passengers on board walked out through the main boarding door, where buses met them and took them back to Terminal A.

“The passengers are being reaccommodated, and the aircraft has been taken out of service for inspections,’’ Baker said.

In a statement, Delta said that while its flight to Amsterdam was taxiing, its wing “made contact with the vertical stabilizer’’ of the smaller jet. The larger plane was able to roll back to the gate.

“Passengers are being reaccommodated tomorrow, and hotels and compensation have been provided,’’ the statement said.

Neither company provided any information about what might have caused the crash.

Karen King of Raleigh, 54, had just fallen asleep when she was awoken by the impact, the damage of which became immediately visible to passengers on both planes. “It wasn’t anything that would have gotten me on my feet, but it was a significant jolt,’’ King said after she and other passengers were bused from the tarmac to the terminal.

Christi Stanforth of Cary, N.C., 47, and other passengers aboard the flight to Raleigh said emergency personnel boarded their flight shortly after the impact to ensure everyone was OK. She said one woman was taken off the flight.

“I think she was in shock,’’ Stanforth said. It’s “surprising how few people were actually crying, even the kids. I think we just realized right away that it could have been a lot worse.’’

David Abel of the Globe staff can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him @davabel.

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