By Stephen Stirling
Investigators were trying to figure out what caused an American Airlines flight to suffer an engine failure last week over Flushing, sending hundreds of pieces of shrapnel raining down on a plumbing business.
The Federal Aviation Administration said a plane departing from LaGuardia Airport was forced to make an emergency landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 11 after witnesses said an explosion caused pieces of one of its engines to shower the roof and parking lot of Varsity Plumbing and Heating Inc. at approximately 8:20 a.m.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the cause of the incident is under investigation but it appeared American Airlines Flight 309 to Chicago experienced “uncontained engine failure” shortly after taking off from LaGuardia at 8:15 a.m., causing pieces of metal to shoot out of the back of the engine and onto the ground below.
The Port Authority said no one was injured on the plane or ground, but the incident provided a scare for employees of Varsity Plumbing, where the majority of the debris landed.
“We heard an explosion and then it sounded like something just dumping buckets of nuts and bolts on the roof. We knew it was a plane right away. My initial reaction was that there’s going to be a crash,” said Varsity Plumbing President Robert Bellini. “When we came out, we expected to see something very bad — a plane in flames or something like that.”
But the debris only caused minor damage to the business, at 31âˆ’99 123rd St. in the College Point Corporate Park, and a few cars in the surrounding parking lot. The FAA said the pieces of the engine were collected and transported to their Garden City, L.I. facility along with the engine itself, where they would be examined by FAA and National Transportation Safety Board officials in the coming weeks and months.
Walking around the roof of his business, Bellini pointed to daggerâˆ’like pieces of metal jutting out from the roof. On the ground, more than a dozen yellow circles marked the spots where FAA officials had cleared up pieces of metal while two cars had small holes in their rear windshields.
Rick Bellini, Robert’s brother, said the timing of the incident could not have been better, since it occurred during a 45âˆ’minute window between when the plumbing and heating supply company’s field workers and administrative employees typically come in to work.
“It happened at just the right time,” he said.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board said the investigation was ongoing.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by eâˆ’mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 138.